A wave of Covid-19 waste including plastic face masks, gloves, hand sanitiser bottles and food packaging has worsened the plastic pollution situation of the planet earth, said United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
According to UNCTAD estimates, lockdowns around the globe have led to a dramatic 5 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions, but not all measures to contain the pandemic have had a positive impact on the environment.
"Plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak. The sudden boom in the daily use of certain products to keep people safe and stop the disease is making things much worse," said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, director of international trade, UNCTAD.
According to business consulting firm Grand View Research, "Global sales of disposable face masks alone are set to skyrocket from an estimated $800 million in 2019 to $166 billion in 2020."
Social distancing has also led to a flood of packaged products delivered daily to homes as people turn to online shopping and takeout services.
According to a survey mentioned in The Los Angeles Times, in Singapore, an additional 1,470 tonnes of plastic waste from takeout packaging and food delivery alone were discarded during the eight-week lockdown period.
The UNCTAD has urged governments and businesses to identify non-fossil fuel plastic substitutes, besides regulating the production and consumption of plastics.
"The list of non-toxic, biodegradable or easily recyclable materials that could replace plastic includes many well-known materials, such as glass, ceramics, natural fibres, paper, cardboard, rice husk, natural rubber and animal proteins," said a UNCTAD report.
According to the organisation, "Developing countries have a big stake in the global plastics economy. Their share of global plastics production jumped from 43.5 percent in 2009 to 58 percent in 2018. And two out of three plastic manufacturing jobs are in the global south."
"Since many plastics substitutes are also labour intensive, changes in production and consumption patterns could create new jobs," said Coke-Hamilton, director of international trade, UNCTAD.