The Effects of COVID-19 on Plastic Pollution
By Ryan Chun and Kunal Anuje
Despite the end of a decade typically bringing us new hope, we quickly saw the world regress to the chaos similar to that brought by the black death.
This plague has confined us to our homes and forced us to branch out and improvise, such as implementing an online learning system, working from home, and creating socially distanced exercise groups. The pandemic's effect on the world has caused higher demand for masks and packaged goods, which are often made of plastic and disposed of incorrectly.
Environmental Damage from Masks
The abundance of safety that masks provide does not come without the detrimental effects on the environment. More specifically, surgical masks, as the World Health Organization reports, are composed of an inner layer of absorbent material, such as cotton, with a middle layer of non-woven non-absorbent material such as polypropylene.
Polypropylene is a type of thermoplastic polymer. Especially harmful is the outer layer, a polyester blend material that takes centuries to decompose into nanoplastics. This ultimately leads to pernicious effects of wildlife on earth; plastics found in masks, and how they are littered, are contributing to the plastic crisis that is slowly encroaching the health of biodiversity in our world.
Masks are not the only source of the plastic waste epidemic: during the lockdown, there has been a boom in businesses like Amazon; because of this, the use of plastic packaging skyrocketed. They are widely used to manufacture grocery bags, box liners, stretch films, containers, and other materials.
These thermoplastic polymers take decades, if not centuries, to break into microplastics. Just as masks are wrongfully disposed of, so are many packaging materials.
16.6 trillion pounds of plastic later, we are failing to stunt its prominent growth during this untruthfully masked pandemic. We have seen the direct effect that the virus has had on us; however, we have failed to consider its indirect counterpart as well as the direct impact upon our tainted ecosystem.
The mass production of plastics has completely nullified our attempts to clean up the world. For one, we can stop using disposable masks and use cloth masks instead. They have many benefits, such as their biodegradability, reusability, and lack of plastic.
Stop turning a blind eye: if you see trash on the side of the road, pick it up. If you don't, nobody else will.