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How has the COVID-19 / Coronavirus pandemic affected plastic use and resulting plastic pollution?
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Improperly discarded disposable face masks have ended up on beaches and in the sea in places like Hong Kong. The masks are made of polypropylene, which takes a long time to break down in the environment. The volume of this waste is expected to grow exponentially across the planet as the pandemic continues.

The pandemic has resulted in an increase in the amounts of medical and hazardous waste generated. Single-use medical items, including face masks, that have been in contact with infected patients must be burned to prevent contamination during recycling.

There has been a massive increase in sales of bottled water, disposable plastic gloves, masks and other plastic products. People's fear that using reusable bags in grocery stores could spread the disease has led to an increase in use of disposable plastic bags.

In the US, the plastic industry lobbied to remove bans on single-use plastic bags, citing hygiene concerns, and saw bans lifted in Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Massachusetts. Some supermarket chains, like Hy-Vee and Price Chopper, had their own in-store bans on reusable bags. The EPA weakened the Toxic Substances Control Act for many chemical and petrochemical manufacturers.

Starbucks and Dunkin temporarily banned refillable cups because of concerns over transmission. In England, a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds that was due in April 2020 was postponed. Great Western Railway and LNER banned reusable cups on trains, although GWR subsequently scrapped the policy.

 

References:

First Person: COVID-19 Is Not a Silver Lining for the Climate, Says UN Environment Chief” (UN News, April 2020)

Calma J, “Plastic Bags Are Making a Comeback Because of COVID-19” (The Verge, April 2020)

Carrington D, “Polluter Bailouts and Lobbying during Covid-19 Pandemic” (The Guardian, April 2020)

Cross DT, “The COVID-19 Outbreak Is Adding to Plastic Pollution” (Sustainability Times, March 2020)

Evans A, “Starbucks Bans Reusable Cups in Response to Virus” (BBC News, March 2020)

POLITICO, “6 Ways Coronavirus Is Changing the Environment” (POLITICO, March 2020)

Tabuchi H, “In Coronavirus, Industry Sees Chance to Undo Plastic Bag Bans” (The New York Times, March 2020)

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