1,560 million masks ended up in the seas: the pandemic generated more than 8 million extra tons of plastic waste

1,560 million masks ended up in the seas: the pandemic generated more than 8 million extra tons of plastic waste

Posted: Nov 11, 2021 03:36 GMT

Last year about 1.56 billion masks ended up in the seas, which also increased the threats to animals, which eat or become trapped in the plastic.

Scientists from China and the United States have calculated that the COVID-19 pandemic generated 8.4 million extra tons of plastic waste, originating in the form of hospital material, protection elements – such as masks, gloves and face shields– and purchases made over the Internet. As they warn in their study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, much of this material ended up in the sea and it will end up reaching the beaches and coastal areas within a few years.

According to specialists from Nanjing University (China) and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography (USA), this situation “poses a long-lasting problem for the ocean environment”, which is why they urge a “better management of medical waste at the epicenters of the pandemic, especially in developed countries. “

According to his calculations, last year about 1,560 million masks they ended up in the seas, which also increased the threats to animals, which eat the plastic or get trapped in it.

Another element that generated an excess of plastic is the increase “at an unprecedented speed” of the Internet sales, due to the packaging of the products. Their mismanagement caused a good part of them to end up in the rivers that flow into the ocean.

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How they calculated it

To estimate the extra amount of plastic generated by the pandemic, the researchers took into account a variety of data, such as population statistics, mask production, coronavirus cases, tests, hospitalizations and financial reports from leading companies in the United States. electronic commerce.

In this way, they calculated that, by the end of August this year, 193 countries had generated about 8.4 million tons of plastic waste related to the pandemic. 87.4% of them were generated by hospitals, while personal protective equipment used by society represented 7.6% of the total and Internet purchases produced 4.7%. For their part, the test kits only derived 0.3% of the total waste.

In addition, they detailed that the continent that produced the most waste was Asia, with about 46%, followed by Europe (24%) and the American continent (22%).

“The biggest sources of excess waste were hospitals in areas that were already struggling with waste management before the pandemic,” explains Amina Schartup, assistant professor at the Scripps Institute. “They just weren’t set up to handle a situation where you have more waste,” he added.

In the midst of this panorama, the specialists projected that by the end of this year, the excess plastic waste generated will be 11 million tons, of which 34,000 tons will be washed by rivers into the ocean.

Danger to the Arctic

The specialists also investigated what the final destination of the plastic would be and pointed out that within three years most of it will end up on beaches and coastal areas.

In addition, they noticed that a good part of them hit the arctic ocean. “The Arctic ecosystem is considered particularly vulnerable due to the harsh environment and high sensitivity to climate change, which makes the potential ecological impact of exposure to accumulated Arctic plastics of particular concern,” they conclude.

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