Comparing the before and after situations of our environment, most people would think that reduced air pollution may have been the pandemic’s redeeming quality. Indeed as the world stood at a virtual standstill, putting everything to a halt, forcing us to shift to a work from home scheme, the earth sighed a temporary sigh of relief.
However, as restrictions were eased in an effort to revive the global economy, carbon emissions became an environmental burden once again. Perhaps the pandemic’s most perilous environmental impact comes from the tons of plastic waste, mainly disposables such as face masks, PPE equipment , plastic gloves, face shields, syringes etc.
Exponential rise in plastic demand and waste
The pandemic has increased the demand for plastics in the healthcare sector and even in our households. Plastic pollution brings a host of environmental problems.
That’s why environmentalists have been calling for measures to reduce plastic wastes. A shift in people’s lifestyles has increased the need for plastics. Apart from the usual protective and disinfecting products, workers and individuals stuck in their homes leaned towards food-to-go encased in plastic. Additives in plastic make it more functional, durable and flexible. These additives however, increase the shelf life of plastics, which industry estimates could take 400 years to break down completely. Surgical mask dominate the landfills and garbage bins, as the majority of people are wearing disposable and one-day use face covers.
Incineration= Air pollution
Soiled tissues and face masks should be disposed off in garbage bins, while medical wastes used by patients and healthcare workers must be sterilized before being incinerated, based on WHO’S guidelines. Unfortunately, not all countries have the capacity to meet the international emission standards by using state-of-the-art incinerators operating at certain temperature levels and with gas cleaning equipment. Pre-pandemic most countries threw plastics in landfills, with some opting to burn it. This practice, however, is dangerous to both the environments and us humans, as harmful and toxic chemicals are released in the air or stick to the ash residues. They potentially aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Endangers the marine ecosystem
Air pollution or global warming are not the only major environmental issues that the world is facing post pandemic. Challenges in proper waste management saw thousands of face masks, gloves and other plastic waste finding their way into water bodies worldwide, endangering the marine ecosystem and the aquatic inhabitants. Most of this plastic waste ends up in digestive tracts of various marine animals such as turtles, whales and many smaller fish which mistake them for food. Furthermore, ingesting the many covid disposables like other plastic waste leads to intestinal blockage, or slow poisoning from the chemicals released.
Proper ways to dispose PPE kits and surgical masks
As per CBCB guidelines, used PPE kits including face shields, goggles, hazmat suits, plastic coverall, used masks, head cover, shoe cover etc generated from COVID-19 isolation wards shall be segregated and sent to common facilities for disposal as per bio medical waste management rules, 2016(BMWM guidelines). However used PPE’s like masks and gloves generated by common households, commercial establishments, institutions, etc are required to be stored separately for a minimum 72 hours for disposal along with solid waste after cutting or shredding. Such shredded masks from households can be collected as dry solid waste by Urban Local Bodies(ULB’S).
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The pandemic has not only led to the loss of lives of thousands living worldwide, on a global scale, it has put our planet in a difficult position too. Unless we pay heed to it now, we may further put our future in peril