COVID-19 pandemic generated more than eight million tonnes of plastic globally, with over 25.000 entering the oceans. Of all the Plastic wastes, hospital waste formed the bulk of global discharge (75 per cent), and Asia accounted for the largest global discharge (72 per cent), said a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Pointing out that global plastic waste problem was already out-of-control, the researchers said that the COVID-19 pandemic increased the demand for single-use plastics that only intensified pressure the issue.
SURGE IN INPATIENT, LOCKDOWN
The report notes that the pandemic demonstrated the indispensable role of plastic in the healthcare sector and public health safety. It said that a surge in the number of inpatients and virus testing substantially increased the amount of plastic medical waste. Apart from this, lockdowns, social distancing and restrictions on public gathering increased the dependency on online shopping, which led to an increase in packaged material
Despite an increase in plastics, the report notes that the treatment of plastic waste is not keeping up with the increased demand for plastic products. Tghe report showed that pandemic epicenters struggled to process the waste. It also mentioned that all the used PPEs and packaging materials were not handled or recycled. These mismanaged plastic waste (MMPW) was discharged into the environment and a portion reached the ocean. These plastics could be carried over long distances in the ocean and could potentially lead to injury or even death of the marine species, the report noted. It also quoted a recent report that showed that 1.56 million face mask entered the oceans in 2020. Some cases of entanglement, entrapment, and ingestion of COVID-19 waste by marine organisms, even leading to death, have been reported, the researchers said Moreover, the mismanaged plastic could also facilitate species invasion and transport of contaminants including the COVID-19 virus.
The researchers at Nanjing University in China and University of California (UC) San Diego, U.S. used newly developed ocean plastic numerical model to quantify the impact of the pandemic on plastic discharge from land sources
Noting that 369 rivers accounted for 91 per cent of the global riverine plastic discharge to the sea, the study said that top three rivers for pandemic-associated MMPW are Shalt al Arab (5.2 Thousand tons, in Asia), Indus (40 thousand tons, in Asia), and Yangtze River (3.7 thousand tons, in Asia). This was followed by Ganges Brahmaputra (24 thousand tons, in Asia), Danube (1.7 thousand tons, in Europe), and Amur (12 thousand tons, in Asia)
In the study, the researchers pointed out that almost all the pandemic-associated MMPW will end up in either the seabed (28 8%) or benches (70.5%) at the end of this century, potentially hurting the benthic ecosystems. It also said that the Arctic Ocean would be a dead-end for MMPW debris transport due to the northern branch of thermohaline circulation About 80 per cent of the plastic debris discharged into the Arctic Ocean will sink quickly, and a circumpolar plastic accumulation zone is modelled to form by 2025, the study added.