Plastics continue to clog our waters, according to Greenpeace, and looks to increase with the current COVID situation. Photo from FreepikPhoto from Freepik
Culture Spotlight

This group warns of another impending doom brought about by COVID—single use plastic waste

Both healthcare waste such as PPEs and our country’s sachet culture will clog our water systems and permeate into our food, says Greenpeace. BY BAM V. ABELLON
ANCX | Jul 02 2020

Our pandemic-fueled paranoia might be helpful in preventing the spread of the virus. From manically washing our hands to disinfecting everything around us, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry. But there is one aspect of this clean-up culture that might present a problem—waste disposal. The way we mindlessly throw things because of our fear might have a lasting impact on the environment that can affect us beyond the pandemic. 

The non-government environmental organization Greenpeace recently released a statement calling on all local government units (LGUs) to strengthen the measures against single-use plastics (SUP).) The call, which excludes essential items in healthcare, was made after more than 100 health experts in the world signed a statement vouching for the safety of reusable items given proper hygiene, sanitation, and disinfection. 

Marian Ledesma, a zero-waste campaigner for Greenpeace, told ANCX that there is a misconception that we have been advised against reusing products. “This [misconception] has mostly been due to the plastic industry’s propaganda about its dangers,” she alleges. “They’re playing on people’s fears for their own profit.”

She explained that what medical experts have been advocating and saying for months is that good hygiene and social distancing are the best modes of prevention: “In World Health Organization’s [WHO] advice to the public, these are the top two reminders, and there’s no mention against reusables. If you look at scientific data, reusables are just as safe and can be disinfected. Sustainable options such as cloth masks are acceptable in non-healthcare settings.” For medical waste, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), proper segregation and waste disposal are a must so they are kept out of our oceans. 

For PPEs, proper segregation and waste disposal are a must so they are kept out of our oceans. Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash

Before the pandemic, there is a vast amount of plastic particles floating in our waters, extended as far as our deepest oceans and supposedly out-of-reach habitats according to National Geographic. These plastics not only contaminate marine ecosystems, but they have been detected in seafood. Greenpeace warns that improper waste management and additional trash caused by the pandemic will not only further harm marine biodiversity, these will also have ill effects on fisher folk, sanitation workers, and the general health of the public. 

In a 2019 report by international environmental organization Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), it is estimated that Filipinos alone use more than 163 million plastic sachet packets, 48 million shopping bags, and 45 million thin film bags. In the same report, it stated that despite Zero Waste strategies, “cities and municipalities will be left with around 20 percent of waste they cannot manage—sachets and other single use plastics.” And this was before the pandemic. 

These plastics affect marine ecosystems and, in turn, the food that we eat. Photo from Pexels

In other parts of the world, a more glaring effect of improper waste management of PPEs come to light this June. In a video posted on Reuters’s Youtube channel, a report showed that French non-profit organization Operation Mer Propre, found an alarming amount of PPEs that have been floating along the French Coast for a month. 

 

Reuse solution

But, according to Greenpeace, there is much we can do while the crisis is ongoing.  

Ledesma said we can replace SUPs with reusable goods or equipment that can easily be disinfected by washing with soap and water. Alternative delivery systems, such as refiling facilities for food and household items, may be implemented by both large-scale businesses and micro, small, and medium enterprise (MSME) in community settings. Resusables and alternative delivery systems, she said, would provide jobs in a sustainable market. It is also advisable to invest in MSMEs that redesign products and systems to go plastic-free and toxic-free. Proper waste disposal should also be on the priority list of local government units. 

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Greepeace itself has a project called, “Better Normal,” which focuses on shaping the pandemic-affected world into one that is better that the destructive “old normal.” Ledesma adds that, “through activities, policy work, and collaborations with different groups, we’re calling for the government to place people and the environment at the heart of the recovery process.”

To know more about Greenpeace’s campaign, you may visit https://act.gp/betternormal.