The World Daily
26,000 tonnes of Covid waste adds to plastic pollution, study finds

Photo by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash 


By Patryk Krych | The World Daily | NOVEMBER 10th 2021 


Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic that had ravaged the world, plenty of medical waste had been produced as a result. A recent study found, however, that around 26,00 tonnes of that waste had ended up polluting the oceans.

The findings of the study, which was conducted by researchers from China and the United States, had been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. It was found that around 8 million metric tonnes of medical waste related to the pandemic had been produced since the start of the outbreak by 193 countries, with a lot of it ending up in the oceans.

“Better management of medical waste in epicenters, especially in developing countries, is necessary,” wrote the researchers, calling for the development of materials that are friendlier to the environment throughout the report.

According to the researchers, the vast majority of plastic waste that ends up entering the world’s oceans often does so through the major rivers. A further look into some of the most pandemic-polluted rivers turned up that the top three were all in Asia.

These include the Yangtze River which flows out and empties into the East China Sea, as well as the Shatt al-Arab river which is known to lead into the Persian Gulf; and the Indus River which empties into the Arabian Sea. All three were found to have an abundance of pandemic-produced plastics polluting them.

“Governments should also mount public information campaigns not only regarding the proper collection and management of pandemic-related plastic waste , but also their judicial use,” said the global coordinator of advocacy group Break Free From Plastic, Von Hernandez. “This includes advocating the use of reusable masks and PPEs for the general public ... especially if one is not working in the front lines.”

Despite Asia only having had 30% of all reported Covid cases, it was found through the study that they were responsible for at least 72% of all pandemic-related plastic discharge. The research states that this is due to a much higher use of single-use, disposable plastics, as well as much laxer methods of waste treatment in certain parts of the continent – particularly in China and India.

Countries hit much worse by the pandemic, such as Europe and North America, however, had been found to have produced much less pandemic waste by comparison. 


“The Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increased demand for single-use plastics that intensifies pressure on an already out-of-control global plastic waste problem,” said study co-authors Yiming Peng and Peipei Wu from Nanjing University. “The released plastics can be transported over long distances in the ocean, encounter marine wildlife, and potentially lead to injury or even death.”

According to a UC San Diego press release, the study had looked at all of the waste that had been generated between the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 and August 2021. 8.4 million tonnes of plastics had been produced, with approximately 25,900 tonnes of that having ended up in the oceans.

“When we started doing the math, we were surprised to find that the amount of medical waste was substantially larger than the amount of waste from individuals, and a lot of it was coming from Asian countries, even though that's not where most of the COVID-19 cases were,” said an assistant professor at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and study co-author Amina Schartup. “The biggest sources of excess waste were hospitals in areas already struggling with waste management before the pandemic; they just weren't set up to handle a situation where you have more waste.” 


By Patryk Krych | © The World Daily 2021 

Source: Washington Post, EcoWatch, The Guardian