Plastic pollution has been an issue since the 1960s, but when mask-wearing, single-use plastics and hand sanitiser bottles became the norm, things only got worse

Over the past two years, coronavirus has kept cropping up in the news. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major consideration for individuals and businesses alike. However, the worldwide issue of plastic pollution has become ever more discussed, and how this contributes to the condition of our planet. Here, we take a closer look at the plastic problem, and how COVID-19 contributed to plastic pollution.

Avoiding cross-contamination

As a highly communicable illness, avoiding cross-contamination has always been viewed as paramount with COVID-19. This has, understandably, led to a decrease in reusable items in public settings and even within households when mingling with those from outside. Rather than risking contaminating another person, many organisations pushed for using single-use plastic items such as cups and cutlery, to decrease this risk. Much of this plastic is not recyclable in household recycling, leading to more plastic being circulated.

Mismanagement of recycling initiatives

As the world shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19, many industries struggled to function as effectively. Just one of these industries was the overall waste industry in both developed and developing countries. There are specific challenges in handling COVID-19 waste, but aside from this, the increase of waste led to more plastic waste being mismanaged due to a lack of available staff and a reduction in how many people could work at the same time.

Lockdowns and takeaways

While we may have normally gone out to eat in a restaurant, during the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, people were consuming more takeaways and shopping online. These activities led to an increase in the number of takeaway containers being sent out, many of which are made of non-recyclable plastic, and plastic protective packaging and bags being used for online shopping deliveries. Though this has eased somewhat with the reopening of restaurants and shops, it remains a major contributor to plastic waste. Even when heading out, bottles used to contain sanitiser have become usual in shared spaces, adding more plastic.

The prevalence of disposable PPE

Throughout the height of the pandemic and even now, protective PPE has been vital. Though the general public sometimes opted for reusable cloth face masks, single-use masks are the most common choice in workplaces and healthcare settings.

Not only this, but plastic gloves have increased in use in hospitals and other hands-on professions. With the World Health Organisation expressing concerns over healthcare waste, this increase in non-recyclable and often contaminated plastic has been a significant factor in the exponential growth of plastic waste.

The role of COVID-19 on increased plastic pollution, especially in the world’s oceans, cannot be denied. As the strain of the coronavirus pandemic becomes more manageable, new awareness about the impact of the pandemic on the environment will hopefully contribute to strategies for avoiding this kind of plastic pollution going forward.


Written by James Ritter, a digital consultant and advocate for local and global environmental issues



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here