The rapid increase of plastic waste has always been a cause of major concern globally, even before the pandemic. But with the rise of the Covid-19 cases, also rose the use of single use plastic and the pollution it creates is beyond our imagination.
Now, with the pressure on hygiene and people being paranoid over the spread of the novel coronavirus threatens to halt and even reverse the progress.
In China, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment estimates that hospitals in Wuhan alone produced more than 240 tonnes of waste daily during the peak of the outbreak, as compared to 40 tonnes during the ‘normal times’.
Based on these data, the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan predicts that the US could generate an entire year's worth of medical waste in just two months because of Covid and it's no different in India.
As a safety measure as well as packaging material in online purchases, continues, there is high dependency on disposables such as plastic cutlery, cups, containers, low-micron count carry bags, garbage bags and higher consumption of packaged drinking water.
City corporations are also grappling with the problem of face masks, shields, protective gear and other hazardous waste finding their way into regular piles of garbage that ups the risk of spreading the virus.
Piling up of plastic disposables has further choked the country's already inadequate garbage disposal and recycling infrastructure.
A waste handling facility in Chennai claims it receives around 300 kg of Covid waste daily just from Tiruchy and surrounding districts. This is exclusive of the 1,400 kg of other bio-medical waste generated on a daily basis. It received 8,000 kg of Covid waste in May, and 3,200 kg in April.
It is estimated that Chennai alone produces 6-8 tonnes of bio-medical waste every day. Ditto for Delhi, where the Aam Aadmi Party had plans to ban single-use plastic. A spokesperson of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation said:
The virus has led to a large increase in the use of single-use plastic but we are up against a challenge and do not have the resources to take up the issue right now.
Struggling to cope with the rising number of cases, state governments in Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala among others are relaxing their own restrictions to ban plastic with fewer than 50-microns.
The Kerala government that had banned single-use plastic in January has since procured such material in large volumes to aid in relief work and distribution of free food via thousands of community kitchens.
Single use plastic has been used as part of relief efforts in all major cities, towns and villages to distribute essentials during the pandemic and is contributing to a bigger problem of piling up disposables.