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Study: Millions of tons of extra plastic waste produced by pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a significant increase in plastic waste worldwide.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a significant increase in plastic waste worldwide.

According to an estimate, around 8.4 million tons of plastic waste in 193 countries have been generated by the pandemic up to August, as researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

By comparison, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), humanity produces a total of around 300 million tons of plastic waste per year.

The team led by the scientists Yiming Peng and Peipei Wu now assumes that a large part of the coronavirus waste – about 87.4 per cent – originated in hospitals, especially in Asian countries.

Masks and other protective equipment for private use accounted for 7.6 per cent, according to a study by the researchers published on Monday. Packaging for booming online retail accounted for about 4.7 per cent of the extra waste, they said.

“Plastic waste causes harm to marine life and has become a
major global environmental concern,” the researchers write.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increased demand for
single-use plastics that intensifies pressure on an already out-of-control global plastic waste problem.”

Already, more than 25,000 tons of the coronavirus waste has entered the world’s oceans. This poses a long-lasting problem for the marine environment.

Within three to four years, a large proportion of this waste will either wash up on beaches or sink to the bottom of the sea.

The researchers called for better management of medical waste, especially in developing countries.

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