Conservationists Fear Rise in Ocean Plastic Pollution Due to Covid-19

June 16, 2020
Conservationists Fear Rise in Ocean Plastic Pollution Due to Covid-19

Quick summary:

  • Clean ocean campaigners warn of ‘Covid waste’ surge, as single-use masks and gloves wash up on beaches worldwide
  • Coronavirus causes twelve-fold increase in facemask manufacture in China, with billions produced across the globe
  • Disposable masks primarily made of polypropylene, a plastic that takes hundreds of years to biodegrade

Conservationists are warning of a surge in marine plastic pollution, as Covid-19 causes a boom in the production of single-use plastics.

Campaigners observed single-use masks and gloves, as well as plastic bottles of hand sanitiser, washing up on beaches across the world, as global populations use the products for protection against the coronavirus.

The French charity, Opération Mer Propre, recently reported increased quantities of self-protective equipment in the Mediterranean off France’s Côte d’Azur. 

The Hong Kong-based OceansAsia, meanwhile, recorded so-called ‘Covid waste’ on the Soko Islands, uninhabited islands off the southern coast of the Asian territory.

“On a beach about 100 metres long, we found about 70 [disposable masks], and that’s on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere,” Gary Stokes of OceansAsia told the Guardian.

“Ever since society started wearing masks, the cause and effects are being seen on the beaches.”

Campaigners fear single-use plastic again on the rise 

Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the production of single-use facemasks has surged across the world. In China, which holds 85% of the market share, manufacture of masks has increased by twelve times since the start of the outbreak, according to the World Economic Forum.

Meanwhile, in Europe, reports suggest that France alone has imported two billion disposable masks to manage the pandemic. These tend to be made of polypropylene, a plastic that takes up to 450 years to break down.

Protective medical equipment, food contact materials, and medicines have not been included in recent measures outlawing single-use plastics – such as that signed by the EU in June 2019.

However, campaigners nonetheless fear that the recent growth in disposable plastic use will hinder the progress made in reining in plastic production world-wide.

“First and foremost, this is a time of public health and safety being the main priority. But we also have to realize that the broader waste issue that is being highlighted by this pandemic really matters,” Nick Mallos, from the US NGO, Ocean Conservancy, told CNN.

According to the UN Environment, 13 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year. 

Photo by Arturo Rey on Unsplash