I know several of us have posted about the negative effects on the environment from the increased consumption of plastic and single-use products, and the figures are absolutely staggering. Is there any realistic solution?
Whether on the foreshore of the Thames or the deserted beaches of Soko, the planet is awash with ********* plastic. Data are hard to come by but, for example, consumption of single-use plastic may have grown by 250-300% in America since the ******** took hold, says Antonis Mavropoulos of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), which represents recycling bodies in 102 countries. Much of that increase is down to demand for products designed to keep *********-19 at bay, including masks, visors and gloves. According to a forecast from Grand View Research, the global disposable-mask market will grow from an estimated $800m in 2019 to $166bn in 2020.
Staggering though such figures are, personal protection is only part of the story. Lockdowns have also led to a boom in e-commerce. [....] Much of what is bought online comes wrapped in plastic—and the bad kind at that. Goods are often packaged in plastic comprising several layers. That keeps the contents safe in aeroplane holds and on delivery lorries. It also makes it nearly impossible to recycle the plastic. At the same time, the locked-down masses have been consuming home deliveries from restaurants in record numbers. First-quarter sales at Uber Eats, one of America’s biggest restaurant-delivery apps, for example, rose by 54% year on year. Every extra portion of curry, or pot of garlic dip, means more plastic waste.
If the public’s increasing appetite for single-use plastic worries environmentalists, then so too does its diminishing inclination to recycle materials that can be reused. In Athens, for example, there has been a 150% increase in the amount of plastic found in the general-waste stream, says Mr Mavropoulos. Anecdotal evidence from ISWA members suggests this is a worldwide trend. An unwillingness to recycle might be explained by people’s nervousness about venturing out to put waste in recycling bins. Or it might just be that lockdowns have put more pressing matters into their minds, prompting a slip in their diligence.
*********-19 has led to a glut in plastic waste in other ways. For one, the ********* caused a crash in the oil price. Because petroleum is a major constituent of most plastics, they became cheaper to produce, says David Xi of the University of Warwick. That in turn gave firms less incentive to use the recycled stuff. But the growth of plastic rubbish is mainly caused by the fact that municipalities around the world have curtailed their recycling schemes. Collections have been cut back and plants have been shut over fears about spreading the contagion. Worries about contaminated rubbish have also made some refuse collectors and sorters nervous about going into work (the ***** can survive for about 72 hours on plastic).
But what worries Mr Parsons is that years spent trying to change the public’s attitude towards single-use plastic might now be lost. Preliminary findings from research his team has conducted suggest that the public has reverted to its earlier insouciance about plastic waste. The ********* has already encouraged the rolling back of anti-plastic legislation, such as taxes on single-use grocery bags in some American states, or a ban on plastic straws in Britain. Ironically, that may even help the climate. But just as *********-19 has scarred families and harmed livelihoods across the world, its effect on the planet will linger, too, in the world’s landfills and oceans.