Single use, dangerous misuse: on the war against plastic during COVID-19

On one in every of his normal walks amassing plastic trash in Chennai, B. Gowtham just lately seen a goat sporting a discarded face masks. “It’s sad,” he says, including how “over the years, awareness about single-use plastic has increased but the pandemic has reversed this”. With hygiene issues paramount, individuals have forgotten environmental issues. Gowtham based environmental conservation organisation Walk for Plastics and he tells me how littering has elevated sharply since the onset of COVID-19, with one in every of three plastic objects being a masks. Titled ‘Corona Edition,’ their activity over the previous couple of months has been to gather plastic trash door-to-door. “Over 150 participants have collected 6000+ products amounting to more than 150 kg of plastic. We follow social distancing norms and use safety gear,” says the artist, identified for his artwork installations fabricated from water bottles, plastic caps, and so on.

Sadly, the pandemic has halted the war against single-use plastics. Instead we’re being informed why plastic is the most secure materials proper now at the same time as the demand for PPE fits, masks and gloves is on the rise. WHO estimates that each month the world wants 89 million plastic medical masks, 76 million plastic examination masks and 1.6 million plastic protecting goggles.

It doesn’t need to be this fashion, says Inger Andersen, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Environment Programme. “COVID-19 has not pressed pause on the environmental challenges that we continue to face, and that includes the problem of single-use plastic pollution. In the last 50 years, plastic production has increased 20-fold and a mere 9% of plastic waste was recycled. According to UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook, about 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the oceans each year,” she says, including how 125 scientists just lately signed a press release saying that reusable buying baggage or packaging can be utilized safely by using primary hygiene.

Workers gather trash together with plastic waste from a neighbourhood dump website in Jakarta on July 3, 2020
| Photo Credit: BAY ISMOYO

Busting myths

There is not any proof to show that single-use plastics are safer than fabric or paper. Yet, producers milk the scenario by feeding concern into individuals’s minds. Shibu Nair, India Coordinator at Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) says single-use merchandise are “extending and amplifying the risk of Covid”. For instance, a tea-stall vendor utilizing metal or glass tumblers will reuse them after a radical wash in cleaning soap and scorching water. “If the same vendor uses plastic-coated paper cups, chances of the virus spreading from one cup to the remaining waste it is dumped in and then to the workers handling the trash is higher,” says Nair, who was featured in the 2019 documentary, The Story of Plastic. Moreover, the virus stays on plastic surfaces for greater than 72 hours, which makes single-use gloves and masks extra susceptible to spreading the illness, says Dinesh Raj Bandela, Deputy Programme Manager, Environmental Governance at Centre for Science and Environment.

Plastic politics

Nair explains how the stress from the plastic trade torpedoed the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 and led to the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules 2018, “which killed the spirit and purpose of the former rules”. There had been provisions for strict restrictions on carry baggage and phasing out non-recyclable and multi-layered plastics, however the plastic trade managed to persuade the authorities to amend the guidelines.

Plastic manufacturing is a manifestation of our unsustainable manufacturing and consumption strategies, says Andersen. For each individual born since the 1950s, one tonne of plastic has been produced. “More than 100 countries have some legislation regulating single-use plastic products,” she says. However, round $180 billion has been invested over the final decade in plastic industries, and with COVID-19 inflicting a resurgence in single-use plastic, “we must work even harder and smarter.”

Trash pickers in New Delhi during the COVID-19 crisis

Trash pickers in New Delhi during the COVID-19 disaster
| Photo Credit: Kamal Narang

Impact on the poor

As with most disasters, the poor and marginalised communities are the worst-hit by the plastic disaster too. According to the World Bank, 93% of waste is dumped into low-income international locations, whereas in upper- and middle-income international locations, 54% of waste goes into landfills. In the absence of sufficient waste administration programs, plastic waste usually results in dumps, riverbanks, and coastlines the place the poor usually dwell. “When this plastic waste chokes drains and waterways, it causes flooding and increases water-borne diseases. It contaminates what are often the only sources of water for poor people,” says Anderson.

Recycling of plastic is dealt with by individuals at the backside of the pyramid, who’re most affected by dangerous emissions. Plastic processing models with minimal or no air pollution management gadgets are thriving, and it’s the poor who discover jobs in such amenities, says Nair.

What might be performed

It is fairly apparent that even earlier than the pandemic, India was nowhere in the race to get rid of single-use plastics by 2022, says Bandela. Eliminating it needs to be a many-fold technique: a combination of a ban on few objects that shouldn’t have recyclable capability and a robust Extended Producer Responsibility coverage, as an illustration.

The plastic trade must step up motion throughout the entire worth chain, says Anderson. “This includes design, sourcing, manufacture, end-use and recycling. We must look at solutions that have a significantly lower impact over the life cycle of the plastic product,” she says. Thus, investments in waste administration programs and recycling capacities are essential. “Once plastic reaches our seas, it becomes a global problem that can only be resolved through international action and global partnerships,” she says.

If The Story of Plastic had been to be shot at the moment, Nair says he would spotlight the “myth of hygiene and health concerns under which a lot of single-use plastics are sold in India”. According to him, environmental and shopper organisations should educate customers to keep away from such plastics. “It is tough, but doable,” says Nair, pointing to Kerala’s Green Protocol Initiative. “Single-use and PVC flex banners have now been eliminated from religious, social and political events. It is not the enforcement of law, but people’s participation that made it possible.”

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