The daunting aftermath of the Covid pandemic: 'Out of control'

·News and Video Producer
·3-min read
  • Oceans filled with 7.6 million tonnes of PPE

  • Asia responsible for 72 per cent of pandemic waste

  • World's beaches set to be inundated with plastic for decades

Around 23,000 metric tonnes of Covid-19 related PPE have polluted the globe’s oceans, as the pandemic triggered an unprecedented growth in demand for single use plastics.

Researchers concluded the pandemic is “intensifying pressure on this already out-of-control problem”, with coronavirus-associated plastic waste now totalling 7.6 million tonnes.

Most of the plastics were generated inside hospitals, with consumers only contributing a fraction of the amount, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study found.

The world's beaches will continue to be inundated with plastic masks long after everyone alive today is gone. Source: Getty
The world's beaches will continue to be inundated with plastic masks long after everyone alive today is gone. Source: Getty

The scale of our waste problem is set to impact the oceans for decades to come, with masks, gloves and testing kits set to break down into micro plastics and litter beaches, mangroves and the ocean floor.

Asia was found to be responsible for 72 per cent of the rubbish, despite only having 31 per cent of the world’s coronavirus cases.

The continent accounted for 46 per cent of mismanaged waste (MMPW), with researchers noting the region has a high uptake of mask wearing across the population.

Ninety-one per cent of pandemic-related plastics entered the ocean from 369 major rivers, with the top three believed to be the Shatt al Arab, Indus and Yangtze.

Europe contributed around 24 per cent of MMPW, followed by North and South America at 22 per cent.

World will be haunted by PPE long after worst of pandemic over

By 2022, researchers predict that 70 per cent of coronavirus plastics in the ocean will end up on beaches, while 28 per cent will sink to the seabed.

Background colours show MMPW generation in US tons, while the blue dots indicate where waste is discharging into the ocean from river mouths. Source: PNAS
Background colours show MMPW generation in US tons, while the blue dots indicate where waste is discharging into the ocean from river mouths. Source: PNAS

With environmentalists already reporting northern Australian beaches being inundated by plastic bottles and packaging carried from Asia on ocean currents, it will only be a matter of time until PPE follows.

Dr Michelle Blewitt from the Australian Microplastic Assessment Project (AUSMAP) told Yahoo News that the world will be haunted by so-called “disposable” PPE for decades to come.

“As we know plastic never ever goes away, it just gets smaller and smaller until it becomes airborne,” Dr Blewitt said.

“Long after the worst part of the endemic occurs, there’s going remain many millions of fragments of these items which are not disposable.

“When the people alive today are no longer around us, the waste will remain well into the future."

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