The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a flurry of plastic waste and environmental campaigners are concerned that this might just be the tip of the iceberg.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers have ramped up the production of plastic to meet the increasing demand for desperately-needed plastic products, including gloves, masks, and PPEs. As citizens clamor for their share of these protective goods, governments around the world race to boost their supplies.

While plastic production during the pandemic is necessary, how these plastic materials are disposed is seen to pose a number of serious challenges to the environment. As the pandemic causes nations around the world to temporarily scrap important regulations on proper waste disposal, more and more people discard their plastic gloves and masks on streets.

“Right outside my house there are discarded gloves and masks all over the neighborhood,” said Greenpeace USA oceans campaign director John Hocevar. “It’s been raining here for two days, so these are very quickly washed down into the sewer. Here in Washington DC, they end up in the Anacostia River, out in the Chesapeake Bay, and then the Atlantic Ocean,” he added.

According to Nick Mallos of US-based NGO Ocean Conservancy, current trends on plastic waste disposal could spell years of trouble for our oceans. “We know that plastic pollution is a global problem—it existed before the pandemic,” he said. “But we’ve seen a lot of industry efforts to roll back some of the great progress that’s been made. We need to be quite cautious about where we go, post-pandemic,” he added.

Environmentalists fear that while nations produce and discard plastic to fight the public health crisis that is COVID-19, they are slowly contributing to another. Plastic wastes that end up in the oceans add to the vast collection of micro-plastics in the seas, picking up harmful bacteria that may severely affect marine life.

“The structure of PPE will make it particularly hazardous for marine life,” said Hocevar. “Gloves, like plastic bags, can appear to be jellyfish or other types of foods for sea turtles. The straps on masks can present entangling hazards,” he explained.

Currently, there is little that can be done to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced everyday as nations scramble to fight the novel coronavirus. However, there have been initiatives to develop reusable PPEs, gloves and masks to address the broader waste issue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Coronavirus is spreading worldwide and countries are doing their best to flatten the curve. Photo by: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay