The coronavirus pandemic has caused a large increase in the use of disposable masks, gloves and other protective equipment, potentially affecting the fight against maritime pollution.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused a large increase in the use of disposable masks, gloves and other protective equipment, potentially affecting the fight against maritime pollution. The various UN agencies and their partners ensure that, if effective measures are put in place, the amount of plastics discarded each year can be significantly reduced, or even eliminated. 1) Increase in pollution caused by the huge consumption of masks, gloves and other products The coronavirus pandemic has caused a significant increase in the production of disposable masks. The figures provided by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development are not misleading and predict that global sales of face masks will amount to about $ 166 billion in 2020, up from about $ 800 million in 2019. For many people, one of the most recent calls of attention to this problem occurred when videos and photos of divers collecting masks and gloves appeared in the media, fouling the waters of the French Riviera. This event is a reminder that politicians, leaders and individuals need to address the problem of waste plastic pollution. Several rays swim among plastics in Bali, Indonesia.UN World Oceans Day / Joerg Blessing Several rays swim among plastics in Bali, Indonesia. 2) Consider waste management as an essential public service If we trust the historical data, their figures indicate that around 75% of the masks used, as well as other waste related to the pandemic, will end up in landfills or floating in the seas. Environmental damage aside, the United Nations Environment Program estimates that the financial cost, in areas such as tourism and fishing, will be about $ 40 billion. The Program warns that, if the large increase in medical waste, much of it made from single-use plastics, is not properly managed, uncontrolled dumping could result. Possible consequences include public health risks from infected used masks, and open burning or uncontrolled incineration of masks, leading to the release of toxins into the environment and secondary transmission of disease to human beings. Fearing these possible secondary effects on health and the environment, the Program urges governments to consider waste management, including medical and harmful waste, as an essential public service. The agency argues that safe handling and final disposal of these wastes is vital to an effective emergency response. “Plastic pollution was already one of the biggest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak,” says Pamela Coke-Hamilton, director of international trade at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. “The sudden rise in everyday use of certain products that keep people safe and stop disease is making things much worse,” she warned. A woman examines discarded plastic bags in Côte d’Ivoire.UNICEF / Frank Dejongh A woman examines discarded plastic bags in Côte d’Ivoire. 3) Plastic pollution can be reduced by 80% However, this situation can be changed as shown by a comprehensive report on plastic waste published by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Systemiq think tank. The study, endorsed by the executive director of the UN environmental agency, Inger Andersen, predicts that, if the appropriate measures are not taken, the amount of plastics dumped into the ocean will triple in 2040, from 11 million to 29 million. tons per year. However, about 80% of the pollution produced by plastics could be eliminated in the same period simply by replacing an inappropriate regulation: changing the business model and introducing incentives that lead to the reduction of plastics production. Other recommended measures are to design products and packaging that can be recycled more easily, and to increase waste collection, especially in lower-income countries. 4) The need to promote a global alliance In an analysis on plastics, sustainability and development last July, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development concluded that global trade policies can also play an important role in reducing pollution. Although many countries have introduced regulations regarding plastic pollution over the past decade, an indicator of the growing concern surrounding this issue, according to the