Growing plastic pollution in wake of COVID-19: how trade policy can help

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©Martina

The pandemic has led to a surge in pollution from disposable products like plastic face masks and hand sanitizer bottles. Effective trade rules can help limit the spread of coronavirus waste.

Coronavirus lockdowns around the globe have led to a dramatic 5% drop in greenhouse gas emissions, according to UNCTAD estimates, but not all measures to contain the pandemic have had a positive impact on the environment.

Growing plastic pollution in wake of COVID-19: how trade policy can help - Brand Spur
©Martina

Our streets, beaches and ocean have been hit by a tidal wave of COVID-19 waste including plastic face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer bottles and food packaging.

“Plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak,” said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, UNCTAD’s director of international trade. “The sudden boom in the daily use of certain products to keep people safe and stop the disease is making things much worse.”

Global sales of disposable face masks alone are set to skyrocket from an estimated $800 million in 2019 to $166 billion in 2020, according to business consulting firm Grand View Research.

But this is only part of the story. Social distancing has also led to a flood of products delivered daily to homes – wrapped in a plethora of packaging – as people turn to online shopping and takeout services. The ensuing plastic waste is enormous.

For instance, during Singapore’s eight-week lockdown that eased on June 1, the island city-state’s 5.7 million residents discarded an additional 1,470 tons of plastic waste from takeout packaging and food delivery alone, according to a survey cited by The Los Angeles Times.