More than 25,000 tonnes of personal protective equipment and other types of Covid-related plastic waste has entered Earth’s oceans, a new study estimates – and 71% of this is due to wash up on beaches by the end of the year. MailOnline has more.
Researchers in California have developed a computer model simulating the fate of plastic waste as it leaves beaches, drifts along the water and fragments into pieces.
They estimate that 8.4 million tons of pandemic-related plastic waste has been generated by 193 countries, from the start of the pandemic to August 2021.
Almost three quarters – 71% – is likely to wash up on beaches by the end of the year, the model suggests.
Most of the offending Covid-related plastic is from medical waste generated by hospitals, the researchers say, which “dwarfs” the contribution from PPE and packaging from online shopping giant like Amazon and eBay.
PPE includes masks, face shields disposable gloves and surgical gowns. The term “Covid-related plastic”, meanwhile, includes PPE and any plastic packaging used to contain these items, as well as plastic from test kits.
All can enter rivers and eventually travel into the world’s oceans if not disposed of properly.
The new study was led by a team of researchers at Nanjing University’s School of Atmospheric Sciences and UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who used data from the start of the pandemic in 2020 through to August 2021.
“Plastic waste causes harm to marine life and has become a major global environmental concern,” they say in their paper.
“The recent COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased demand for single-use plastic, intensifying pressure on this already out-of-control problem.
“This work shows that more than eight million tons of pandemic-associated plastic waste have been generated globally, with more than 25,000 tons entering the global ocean.
“This poses a long-lasting problem for the ocean environment and is mainly accumulated on beaches and coastal sediments.”
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