Approximately 18.4 million tonnes of plastic waste are said to have been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic up until August 2021 in 193 countries, predominantly in Asia. This is the estimate made by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who see in this above all a threat to marine life.
The research team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences published their study in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Of the estimated 8.4 million tonnes, they are proceeding on the assumption that the vast majority (87.4 percent) was generated in hospitals, especially in Asian countries. Only 7.6 percent is said to be attributable to private use (masks and other protective equipment). The online trade, which is booming during the pandemic, is said to be responsible for around 4.7 percent of the additional plastic waste.
In the opinion of the Chinese research team headed by scientists Yiming Peng and Peipei Wu, this additional waste is worsening the existing problem of marine pollution through plastic litter. They say the pandemic has led to an increased demand for disposable plastic products. Above all regional pandemic hotspots were unable to cope with processing the waste, as a result of which not all the protective equipment and packaging materials was properly treated or recycled, but landed in the environment and, from there, in some cases ended up in the oceans.
According to the report, over 25,000 tonnes of the Covid-19 waste was discharged in this way into the world's seas from the beginning of the year until August. In a recent report referenced by the research team, 1.56 billion masks are said to have been rinsed into the oceans. In order to protect the marine environment and inhabitants from the consequences of such discharges, the researchers want a clear improvement in the way medical waste is handled, especially in developing countries.
More information: Study "Plastic waste release caused by COVID-19 and its fate in the global ocean" (https://www.pnas.org/content/118/47/e2111530118)
- umweltwirtschaft.com (11/12/2021)
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