Before COVID-19 completely reshaped our lives, plastic pollution in our oceans was a mounting problem, with an estimated 8 million tons of plastic entering our oceans each year. Now, with plastic facemasks and takeout some of the stars of our new normal, COVID-19 has become as much a threat to our oceans as it is to our health.
The Facemask Problem
In order to keep each other safe from spreading the virus, facemasks are a necessary accessory for every individual across the globe. However, most medical-grade facemasks contain polypropylene (PP) plastics and can only be used for a short amount of time.
It is estimated that 129 billion facemasks are being used monthly across the globe, and many of these are not being properly used and disposed of. Plastic facemasks are rapidly making their way into our oceans and adding more plastic waste to the growing masses of plastic pollution floating across the seas.
Conservationist are trying to find alternatives to the single-use plastic found in PPE, as well as educate people on how to properly dispose of facemasks so that they don’t find their way into our waterways.
A Rise in Takeout
For years, sustainability experts have urged people to try skipping takeout as a way to reduce single-use plastic. However, with COVID-19 shutting restaurants across the world and stay-at-home orders limiting people’s movement, there has been a huge boom in food delivery and to-go orders as restaurants fight to stay alive and people demand a sanitary way to enjoy their favorite meals.
This means that more plastic bags, food containers, and coffee cups than ever are finding their way back out onto the street and into homes, where they enjoy their short, single-use lifespan and then begin their journey towards a landfill or, when improperly disposed of, straight into our oceans.
How Can We Fight Plastic Pollution in the Wake of COVID-19?
Keeping each other safe and healthy is the most important thing to focus on right now, but there are a few simple ways to make sure that we are not trading one problem for another.
- Use Reusable Cloth Facemasks
Unless you’re a medical professional who needs to use surgical or N95 facemasks on a daily basis, a simple swap to a reusable cloth facemask will ensure that you keep you and your neighbors healthy while preventing more plastic facemasks from ending up in our oceans. It also means that you’ll help make sure that medical professionals have access to the PPE that they need and won’t have to face another shortage.
- Skip the Plastic Utensils
Many restaurants are making the switch to compostable or reusable bags and food containers for their takeout orders. You can help make your delivery order more sustainable by asking them to skip sending you the flimsy single-use plastic utensil set and instead opt for using durable, sustainable utensils like ones made from bamboo.
The pandemic is far from over, and to help protect our oceans and our environment from suffering irreversible damage as a result, we need to keep working on sustainable, long-term solutions for a plastic-free and virus-free world.