The Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing measures, has changed consumer behaviour. This has resulted in a significant increase of household plastic waste and use of virgin single-use plastics. At Waste2Wear, we feel this is a worrisome development, especially because pre-Covid, consumers were increasingly more aware of the plastic problem and motivated to change their behaviour.
Worldwide, waste increase numbers are staggering. In Hong Kong, people have used 2.2. times more throw-away plastics related to takeout packages since the outbreak, compared with the same time period last year. Deliveries were up by 25% in March, April and May in China. The volume of household waste in Thailand, and particularly plastic waste, has risen 15% due to three times as many food deliveries a day nationwide. And next to food, we’re all ordering more goods online that often uses plastic packaging.
With everyone staying in, it’s no surprise that household waste has peaked over the last few months. What is worrying though: while household waste increases, recycling capacity decreases. In 80 communities in America, temporary suspensions in curbside recycling or yard waste collections have been reported. In many of the main recycling countries in Asia, such as Malaysia, Vietnam, and India, city lockdowns in combination with social distancing restrictions, have resulted in only 30% of recyclers continuing operations.
Today, governments around the globe make the wearing of face masks compulsory in enclosed spaces because it is an important measure to prevent Covid-19 from spreading. There are however, three issues we believe should not be overlooked. One, the disposable face masks many consumers wear, are a new source of single-use plastic waste. Two, disposable face masks are generally made from a few layers of different types of plastic, called polypropylene. This makes the total product difficult to recycle. Three, polypropylene in thin form has the tendency to deteriorate into very small pieces quickly, if wrongly disposed. These pieces do not deteriorate unless they’re exposed to high temperature or intensive UV rays.
If governments are not responsibly managing the use of face masks by consumers, disposable face masks will continue to add to the world’s immense pile of plastic waste. Fortunately, we also see some small but encouraging developments. In Wuhan, China, they have put out special bins for mask collection. They were collecting about 200-300kg of discarded face masks per day, from a specific area where about 400,000 people live.
It has to be mentioned that as residential waste has risen, commercial waste has been falling. Filco Carting, a big US waste Management Company, has seen commercial waste drop by 50% since the pandemic hit. However, it is unlikely that this can significantly offset the increase of household and medical waste. Combined with the decreased capacity of waste recycling and companies and governments putting plastic bans on hold, we at Waste2Wear, are concerned that this situation gravely contributes to a deteriorating waste situation across the globe.
Before Covid hit, an increased number of consumers started to be aware of the world’s plastic problem. Many even actively joined initiatives such as beach clean ups. In today’s changed world, actively reducing plastic waste as a consumer, means being far more conscious about your online ordering behaviour, choosing recycled options over new ones and making the effort to purchase a reusable face mask. We, at Waste2Wear, hope you will make these important efforts.
This article is a serie of 3, written by from Monique Maissan, Founder and CEO of Waste2wear, for IPI Journal, Mumbai volume 7, June 2020