Increased plastic consumption driven by COVID-19-related health concerns leads to a dilemma as people create more waste to protect their health while paving the way for a risk to environmental health in the future.
While some people think single-use items are a must against the coronavirus, environmentalists have warned that this will affect public health and people should be more careful about using them.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Yavuz Eroglu, head of the Turkish Plastics Manufacturers Research, Development and Educational Foundation (PAGEV), said that in these COVID-19 times people are using disposable items to guard themselves against the virus.
Touching on possible environmental problems due to the high use of disposable items, Eroglu said disposable products are “100% recyclable,” so if this waste is collected properly, there will not be any environmental issues.
“The only problem with disposables is that if you litter them, if you dispose of them in the environment or if you throw them in the sea, nobody collects them for recycling.”
He said stopping the accumulation of this waste in the environment, educating people in this regard and establishing a more solid waste recycling infrastructure would prevent any problem of pollution.
He highlighted that plastics are also valuable items economically as they are used again and again in various sectors.
“There are a lot of people that collect them. Even in the streets, the street collectors collect them and take them to the recycling company. They get some money for that. That’s why if you talk about recycling, that is not just an environmental issue, but there is also an economic issue.”
He added that increasing the recycling rate and waste management infrastructure investments in the country will also stem the import of raw material that industries need, which is also another economic benefit.
Eroglu concluded that regardless of the types, people should use plastic, glass or metal responsibly to prevent any side effects on the environment.
Plastic industries urge more consumption
Sedat Gundogdu, an expert on sea waste and microplastics at Turkey’s Cukurova University, told Anadolu Agency that plastic producers take advantage of COVID-19 and people’s hygiene concern to encourage people to consume more plastic.
“It is questionable that using plastic packaging will provide a hygienic precaution against COVID-19. Encouraging people to consume plastic is not based on any scientific, established information and is even misleading,” he said, adding the coronavirus stays on plastic surfaces longer than other substances, according to some studies.
He added that trying to profit from people’s virus concern is not only unethical but also incompatible as part of public health.
Reiterating the current plastic consumption is many times more than pre-coronavirus consumption, Gundogdu warned that this will cause some problems such as microplastics, in the longer terms.
“On plastic management, Turkey is a country that still needs to take some steps, the future of this plastic waste is inevitable for becoming microplastics as most disposable plastics disintegrate quickly.”
Along with the increasing amount of waste, another problem is microplastics in hygiene products such as detergents and soaps containing chemicals that reach the wastewater sources, to the freshwater sources and the seas, he highlighted.
“The virus appeared in an area where wild animal trade was intense. As a result, we have to give another pollutant to the nature against a virus that was also emerged with intervention to nature. We do another damage to get rid of one harm,” Gundogdu said.
Criticizing the approach that disposable plastics can be recycled and are not harmful to the environment, he wondered out loud why European countries with the most developed recycling infrastructure in the world are sending tons of waste to other countries.
“Disposable plastics cannot participate in recycling processes, there is disinformation on this issue.”
Stating that it would not be wrong to say that plastic consumption will increase after COVID-19 as well, he stressed the importance of alternative solutions against this would be possible by decision-makers’ attitudes regarding this.
He urged people to use traditional soap or biodegradable detergents for cleaning and stressed the need for separate and private areas for wastes like used gloves and masks.
Gundogdu has developed a project to detect and map the status of randomly disposed of mask and glove waste to raise awareness on the increasing amount of waste danger during the virus period.
According to a study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April, the COVID-19 is more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard.