New pollutant takes over the world
2 November 2020
International- The COVID-19 global pandemic has forced everyone to wear masks and gloves globally for many months now. According to BBC, it has been calculated that we are using 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves on an average every month. Such ‘disposable’ protective wear is said to last forever on the earth.
After the onset of COVID-19, disposable masks, gloves, and other plastic protective wear have been found improperly disposed of on the roads and in the oceans worldwide(Source: UNCTAD)
The gloves, wipes, masks, and other plastics that are thrown on the ground, make their way into the ocean as microplastics through sewer systems. These are extremely harmful to marine life as they attract harmful pesticides and chemicals. Mark Benfield — a microplastic disposal professor—told CNN, “It was a lot more PPE waste than I expected” after he walked around Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Besides the fact that it is harmful for the environment, it is also dangerous for those who take the risk of collecting and disposing it.
Although COVID-19 has reduced pollution due to less traffic on the roads and fewer flights in the air, it is not all good news for the environment. Campaigners have been organising awareness drives about limiting the use of disposable masks and gloves because of its lasting impact on Earth’s environmental degradation. They continue to advocate the switch to the reusable kind.
Various municipalities have terminated recycling and shut down recycling plants due to fear of the virus spreading at these centers. Shops and food retailers have resumed the use of plastic bags to minimize contact with customers. Low demand of imported perishables has resulted in a hike in organic waste. All these have led to a global increase in non-biodegradable waste.
Many national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and conservation zone workers were either laid off or forced to take leave during the pandemic period. Thus, as these areas remain unmonitored, illegal poaching, hunting, fishing, and deforestation took place, which furthered the damage to the ecosystems of those regions.
Immediate action needs to be taken to reduce the long-lasting ill-effects of this virus on the environment. Taking small steps such as disposing masks properly or using reusable ones can take us a long way. The Welsh government has already decided to implement such rules to limit the use of such environment-damaging PPE. The further degradation of the environment can be interrupted if all countries decide to do the same.
(Sources- BBC, CNN)
Edited by- Hithesh Jain