25,000 metric tons of COVID-related plastic waste floating in ocean: Study

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25,000 metric tons of COVID-related plastic waste floating in ocean: Study
25,000 metric tons of COVID-related plastic waste floating in ocean: Study

There are more than 25,000 metric tons of COVID-19-related waste swirling in the world's oceans, according to a new paper appearing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study found that 193 countries produced about 8.4 million metric tons of plastic linked to the pandemic, with about 87.4 per cent of that coming from hospitals.

Personal protective equipment, face masks, gloves, and face shields - along with their packaging - accounted for the majority of the trash.

The study's authors say the figures are an estimate, and that the true amount of pandemic-associated plastic waste, and its associated environmental and health impacts, remain "largely unknown."

This is due, in part, to some uncertainties, particularly around consumer habits. Not everyone who purchases disposable masks wears them every day, for example. The paper attempts to compensate for these uncertanties by incorporating survey data on mask usage while considering "multiple scenarios."

According to the paper, as of August 23, 2021, between 4.4 to 15.1 million tons of COVID-19-related waste had been generated worldwide. Using estimates, the team created a model to determine how much of that waste ended up in global oceans, brought there by 369 major rivers.

"Overall, the top 10 rivers account for 79 per cent of pandemic plastic discharge, top 20 for 91 per cent, and top 100 for 99 per cent. About 73 per cent of the discharge is from Asian rivers followed by Europe (11 per cent), with minor contributions from other continents," reads an excerpt.

The authors say the findings highlight the need for better systems to collect, treat, and dispose of single-use medical waste, particularly in developing countries.

"The recent COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased demand for single-use plastic, intensifying pressure on this already out-of-control problem," the paper says.

"These findings highlight the hotspot rivers and watersheds that require special attention in plastic waste management."

Thumbnail image courtesy: Formaoriginalphotos/Canva Pro.

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