As we continue to battle the pandemic, we’re also seeing a surge of plastic, medical, and hazardous waste. According to National Geographic, the world has been using up 129 billion disposable masks and 65 billion disposable gloves each month since the pandemic began. Asia is the world’s biggest polluter—we are estimated to discard 1.8 billion face masks daily. China, with the world’s largest population (1.4 billion) discards nearly 702 million face masks daily.
We’ve already had a plastic problem before COVID-19. A study by Ocean Crusaders said that shoppers worldwide used approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year pre-pandemic. The Philippines continues to be the third-highest plastic waste generator in the world. China is number one, followed by Indonesia.
How can we reduce our plastic and medical waste while navigating the limitations of the pandemic? Here are five ways.
1. Refuse single-use plastic utensils. We’ve heard this time and again, but did you notice your plastic usage getting worse in quarantine? There’s a fear of reusable utensils spreading the virus, so consumers feel safer with single-use plastics. Because we have to avoid going to the malls to shop or dine, we turn to mostly takeout and deliveries that use single-use plastic utensils and packaging, thus contributing to the plastic problem that existed way before the pandemic.
But we don’t really need those disposable plastic spoons and forks at home, do we? When ordering takeout, make sure you specifically and repetitively state, “no plastic utensils, please!”
Don’t just dump your e-commerce plastic bags in the trash bin. Whenever I purchase something from Shopee or Lazada, my package arrives in layers of bubble wrap, cling wrap, plastic tape, and the courier’s plastic wrapping. I can almost hear the dolphins choking on these plastics that will most likely end up in the oceans and landfills if we don’t segregate and recycle.
3. Consider growing a food garden. Many Filipinos have become plantitas in the pandemic, while others have started growing vegetables and herbs at home, whether it’s a small condo veranda or a backyard garden. When I started growing my own herbs and simple vegetables at home, I not only saved money but also came home with less plastic-wrapped produce from the groceries. I also find gardening therapeutic.
4. If you run a restaurant or small food business, consider switching from plastic to more eco-friendly packaging.
5. Beware of disguised plastic—disposable items that don’t seem like plastic, but are actually worse than pure plastic. Medical masks, gloves, and wipes are made from a mix of paper and polymers that can’t be separated or recycled in most recycling centers. Sadly, I’m still waiting for environmentalists to publish a report on the proper recycling of medical face masks. Right now, all they’re telling us is to opt for reusable and washable masks and publishing articles on how to properly dispose of PPEs the way hospitals do it. At the end of the day, these PPEs will most likely end up in the ocean and landfills. I can already hear the whales and turtles dying.
How do you lessen your pandemic waste? Please also share links to recycling companies in your area.