A First-Of-Its-Kind Magazine On Environment Which Is For Nature, Of Nature, By Us (RNI No.: UPBIL/2016/66220)

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Mr VN Garg

TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.

Mr VN Garg

Mr VN Garg

Mr VN Garg

Expert Expressions

Plastic Waste Management during Covid19

One unintended consequence of Covid-19 has been the increased plastic pollution. The use of plastic in medical and protective equipment such as single use gloves, masks and aprons, PPE suits has increased manifold during the Pandemic. Also, the generation of waste plastic in the form of discarded bottles after using sanitizer, is huge. Further, the demand of plastic packaging of goods sold in retail has also increased.

Before the onset of Covid-19, a war had been declared at global level to cut down and finally eliminate the use of single-use plastics. In a sense, the Pandemic has halted this war against single-use plastics and has normalised the use of plastics for protection against the virus. In fact, there is an apprehension that Covid-19 will reverse the momentum of year’s long global war to cut down on single-use plastic. The trend is unmistakable in the cities of all the countries. From cities in the USA to Asian cities, there is an increase in the use of plastics during the pandemic. The World Bank has stated that Covid-19, at least for now “seems to be shifting the tide towards single- use plastics”. WHO estimates that every month the world needs 89 million plastic medical masks, 76 million plastic examination masks and 1.6 million plastic protective goggles.

Cities are also struggling to handle a surge of infectious medical waste from hospitals and health facilities treating corona virus patients.  Thailand which had banned  disposable plastic bags  in January  and planned to slash plastic waste in 2020, now expects to see it rise by as much as 30 percent. Bangkok alone consumed 62 % more plastic in April than it did 12months earlier .During an eight-week lockdown, Singapore generated  an additional 1470 tons of plastic waste  from take-out packaging  and food delivery alone , according to a survey. Manila , a city of 14 million , is generating an additional 309 tons of medical waste daily – including disposable plastic  gowns, masks  and surgical gloves – but few cities have  the capacity to deal with  the excess.

In India, state governments in Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and many others  are relaxing  restrictions to ban plastic  with fewer than 50 microns. The Kerala government has procured  plastic material in large quantities to aid in covid19 relief work  and distribution of free food  through a large number of community kitchens. Delhi government’s plans to go  single-use plastic free  have been pushed back .This is being done though there is no evidence to prove that  gloves and masks  made from single-use plastics are safer  than  those made from cloth or paper. Earlier, under the pressure from the plastic industry ,the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 were amended  and led to the  Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2018.The strict provisions regarding  carry bags and phasing out  non-recyclable and multi- layered plastics  were diluted.

Worldwide, studies suggest that less than 10 %  of the plastic ever produced  has been recycled. The Central Pollution Control Board of India estimates that  only 60 percent of the plastics we consume gets recycled. The non-recycled plastics are either dumped  in a terrestrial  or aquatic environment  or are openly burnt  across the country ,posing  grave environmental challenges . Most of the  cities in the world, in the absence of well-designed  recycling systems, rely on  informal networks of  waste pickers to collect  and sort trash. During Covid-19, millions of these workers  have been barred from  doing their jobs during lockdowns, fuelling economic distress .As a result , more plastic is routed  to landfills and incinerators in stead of going for recycling. This is also true about the cities in India.

One important  impact of Covid-19 is  in economic sphere.   Due to lockdowns at global level, international travel and industrial activity came to a virtual standstill, and this caused oil  demand and prices to go down. This  resulted in the drop of cost of  plastic production, making it cheaper to manufacture new plastic products. Economically ,this has made the use of  recycled plastic material  unattractive. With the demand for recycled plastic  material going low, the recycling industry  has been  left with  fewer buyers. This lower demand is cutting into  the profit margins of recycling companies . Lower revenue  is likely to   delay investments in new recycling plants  and technologies.   Due to slackening of efforts to eliminate plastic waste , businesses are likely to revert to using  virgin plastics , with little incentive  to opt for more expensive recycled plastic materials. In the developed countries like the USA , UK   and other European countries , with more plastic waste being  treated domestically  due to reduced demand  for plastic waste in foreign markets(like China), recycling companies could be overwhelmed with waste  they have little financial incentive  to process.

 However , the situation is different in Asian countries. As the virus continues to surge  across parts of  the world , some see  an opportunity to invest  in reusable materials, especially in developing countries like India , China , and Indonesia. Recently, a Singapore-based  investment fund(Circulate Capital) ,  announced  that the fund would spend $ 6 million to boost  two small-scale plastic recyclers in India and Indonesia. According to the fund managers, “waste and recycling have been under-invested  in for 20 years. Now is an opportunity to start”

Covid-19 has  brought the issue of plastic pollution into high relief . The world is at the junction of two diverging paths. One  is a  track toward  a stop gap method to fight Covid-19  in which  there is an increased use of plastics  in near future  and there is more plastic in the ocean than fish. The other is a sustainable model of living and working that will benefit us long into the future and that requires a control on the use   and disposal  of plastics. We should all ,as consumers, think of ways to reduce this problem of plastic pollution. Some of the things that we can do as consumers ( as recommended by World Economic Forum) are: Shopping with refill models – which not only supports small businesses but also significantly reduces  plastic usage; Supporting informal sector waste pickers by making a donation; Using reusable shopping bags and advocating for local governments to reconsider lifting restrictions on single-use plastics; Responsibly discarding disposable  products like masks and gloves  through formal waste collection systems ,rather than littering or leaving  them in public places; Advocating for businesses to uphold commitments to reduce plastic waste , and encouraging them not to lose  sight of longer –term  sustainability targets and     Embracing and helping  popularize the principle of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle of plastics —which keeps plastic waste out of  our waterways , our oceans and our environment  .

Only this course of action can save the world from  a severe plastic pollution in the post Covid-19 world.

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