Plastic waste issue worsens amid the coronavirus pandemic


A vendor wearing a protective face mask delivers a plastic bag to a customer at an open-air food market that has been reopened, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Cisternino, Italy, April 27, 2020. [Photo/Agencies via China Daily]

People have seen limited interaction with the nature since the COVID-19 lockdown.

But it doesn't mean pollution has paused.

Environmental campaigners have noticed a surge of single-use plastic waste amid the coronavirus  pandemic which has posed threats to our ocean, soil, and air.

For many, wearing masks and gloves has become routine to contain the virus. But a lot of the personal protective equipment (PPE) is made of plastic and not recyclable.

An environmental activist from Oceans Asia has collected over 70 discarded masks on beaches in Hong Kong just in a few weeks since the outbreak.

A recent report from Allied Market Research shows that the global demand for PPE keeps growing and the industry's revenue will nearly triple by 2027, compared to 2019.  

To minimize the spread of the virus, people have high demand for takeout food, bottled water, and online shopping.


Residents stand in line for takeout meals at a busy restaurant in Admiralty. As is the case at most eateries, the meals are served in disposable containers wrapped up in plastic bags that will undoubtedly place an additional burden on the environment. (Photo/China Daily)

Bans on single-use plastics have been lifted in some U.S. states.

Many retailers have started to ban reusable bags over fears of transmission.Waste and recycling collection services were delayed or paused for safety reasons.    

Countries are now seeing a sharp rise in the single-use plastic waste including wrappings, containers, packaging and plastic utensils.

In Thailand, Bangkok alone has consumed 62 percent more plastic in April compared to the same month in last year.

The world now produces over 380 million tons of plastic every year, but only nine percent of them are recycled. Majority of plastic items ended up in landfills and oceans.

The United Nations estimates up to 13 million tons of plastic are dumped in the oceans every year and half of them are single-use items.  

Thousands of marine animals die after eating plastic litter each year.    

Plastic bags we use in everyday can take 10-20 years to decompose in landfills. But plastic bottles can take 450 years.

Although plastic is an efficient material in modern society, it is still quite challenging for our current recycling and waste system to keep it out of the nature.

To help solve plastic waste issues, consumers should litter plastic items more properly.

Environmental activists urge more countries to ban single-use plastics. 

Taking action now could help combat plastic pollution at the source.

Takeaway waste pyramid decomposition time 

(Graphics/China Daily)

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Japan begins charging for plastic bags

Retailers in Japan began charging for plastic bags on July 1, a move aimed at curbing Japanese consumers' love for packaging and finally bringing the country in line with other major economies.

Shops including ubiquitous convenience stores can decide how much to charge customers for the bags, with a common price being three yen (around three U.S. cents).

The new rule seemed to be having some effect, with one shopper making sure she brought her own bag.

"There are lots of issues now, like the environment and global warming. Each of us needs to be more aware of these issues, and that is why I am carrying my own shopping bag," Yoshimi Soeda, 66, told AFP outside a Tokyo store.

"I am worried. I want plastic bags and containers for food to be changed to something more environmentally friendly, although it may not be so easy."

Visitors to Japan are often surprised by the amount of packaging involved in even the most basic of transactions – most convenience stores wrap individual bananas in plastic.

The country produces more plastic packaging waste per capita than any nation apart from the United States, according to the United Nations, with campaigners criticizing Tokyo for moving too slowly on reducing plastic consumption.

With the measure, Japan has vowed to "curb excessive use of plastic and think about how to use it wisely", according to its most recent policy document.

Introducing a nationwide fee "is aimed at prompting people to think twice if a bag is really necessary and helping people to review their lifestyles," the government said.

In 2018, Japan vowed to reduce its annual 9.4 million tonnes of plastic waste by a quarter by 2030. And at a meeting in Osaka last year, leaders from the G20 economies agreed to reduce marine plastic waste.

Japan touts an enviable waste management system, and the government says more than 80 percent of its plastic waste is recycled.

But much of that "recycling" involves simply incinerating plastic, often to produce energy – a process that generates carbon dioxide and contributes to climate change.

According to government data, bags account for two percent of the total amount of plastic waste.

Source: CGTN, People's Daily

Editor: Lv Yun