The looming crisis
The covid-19 pandemic has not only threatened human lives but the disease has proved a catastrophe for our environment as well. According to a study the pandemic has generated more than eight million tonnes of plastic waste globally, with over 25,000 tonnes of it entering the oceans.
The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that a significant portion of this ocean plastic debris is expected to make its way onto either beaches or the seabed within three to four years.
A smaller portion will go into the open ocean, eventually to be trapped in the centres of ocean basins, which can become garbage patches, and accumulate in the Arctic Ocean.
The researchers noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased demand for single-use plastics such as face masks, gloves, and face shields. This has resulted in tremendous waste generation, that too hazardous.
The resulting waste, some of which ends up in rivers and oceans, is intensifying pressure on an already out-of-control global plastic problem. Though some concerns were raised after the pandemic peaked in most of the countries across the globe but since then no headway has been made to control the generation of hazardous waste.
Surprisingly, the research has found that most of the global plastic waste from the pandemic is entering the ocean from rivers. Asian rivers account for 73 per cent of the total discharge of plastics, with the top three contributors being the Shatt al-Arab, Indus, and Yangtze rivers, which discharge into the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and East China Sea.
European rivers account for 11 per cent of the discharge, with minor contributions from other continents, the researchers said.
Since the deposition of plastic waste on the seabed’s and other fragile locations will create huge problems for the human beings, a comprehensive management programme need to be put in place across the globe much before any eventuality springs up.
Since the Arctic ecosystem is already considered to be particularly vulnerable due to the harsh environment and high sensitivity to climate change, the world needs to wake up and prepare to deal with any sort of crisis that can erupt if things go unchecked.
Primarily, to combat the influx of plastic waste into the oceans, the world leaers need to stress for better management of medical waste in epicentres, especially in developing countries.
Besides, a global public awareness of the environmental impact of personal protection equipment (PPE) and other plastic products need to be started so that people and countries start to think innovatively about the looming crisis.
Given the fact that the pandemic is here to stay for a longer period of time development of innovative technologies for better plastic waste collection, classification, treatment, and recycling, and development of more environmentally friendly materials needs to be perused across the globe.