Covid-19 hits the fight against plastic pollution

With the use of disposable masks, gloves and other protective equipment increasing as part of Covid-19 preventive measures, the fight against plastic pollution has been widely hit, according to the United Nations.

The UN said that promotion of mask wearing as a way to slow down the spread of Covid 19 has led to an extraordinary increase in the production of disposable masks. UNCTAd, the UN trade body, estimates that global sales will total 166 billion dollar this year, up from around 800 million dollars in 2019.

It said that reports showing videos and photos of divers picking up masks and gloves, littering the waters around the French Riviera were a wake-up call for many. It was also a reminder that politicians, leaders and individuals should give much importance to address the problem of plastic pollution.

The UN Environment Programme has warned that large increase in medical waste, much of it made from environmentally harmful single-use plastics, would be dumped up uncontrollably if they were not managed soundly. It warned potential dangers of public health risks from infected masks and also release of toxins once these are burned in open air.

With fears of secondary impact son health and environment because of the mismanagement of medical waste, the UNEP has urged governments to treat management of waste, including medical and hazardous waste, as an essential public service.

Noting that plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to the planet before the coronavirus outbreak, UNCTAD’s director of international trade Pamela Coke Hamilton said that the sudden boom in the daily use of certain products to keep people safe and stop the disease is making things much worse.

The UNCTA said that global trade policies also have an important role to play in reducing pollution. “The way countries have been using trade policy to fight plastic pollution has mostly been uncoordinated, which limits the effectiveness of their efforts,” said Coke Hamilton.

The organisation further urged governments to promote non toxic, biodegradable or easily recyclable alternatives, such as natural fibres, rice husk, and natural rubber. These products would be more environmentally-friendly and, as developing countries are key suppliers of many plastic substitutes, could provide the added benefit of providing new jobs. Bangladesh, for example, is the world’s leading supplier of jute exports, whilst, between them, Thailand and Côte d’Ivoire account for the bulk of natural rubber exports, it said.

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