Despite being a pandemic need, plastic is still harmful - GulfToday

Despite being a pandemic need, plastic is still harmful


The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

The coronavirus pandemic has turned many things on its head, and the use of plastic is one of them. Just when many thought it was harmful for society, single-use plastic is staging a comeback, be it for throwaway face masks or gloves.

Items such as ventilator machines, according to one report, have components made of single-use plastics. Masks, visors, gloves or screens ... all are crucial accessories to keep COVID-19 at bay. Other uses are manifold — from hairdressers using throwaway aprons to UN recommendations that airline food be distributed in blister packs to the bubble tents that allow some relatives to visit elderly and sick loved ones, touching them through a transparent plastic film.

At a time when several countries are leaving no stone unturned in banning single-use plastic, cities in nations like America seem to be going in the opposite direction, all due to the pandemic. California has had partially to lay aside its green gusto by dropping for two months a ban on single use plastic bags.

In March, one French plastics group stated that “without single use plastic you will no longer have wrapping to protect your food against germs.”

Single-use plastics can literally be the difference between life and death, according to the head of a lobby group in the United States. However, this should not blind us to the damaging effects of plastic. Tackling the scourge of the virus does not mean that the strategy of recyclability has to be kept on the backburner.

Plastic does not guarantee hygienic protection. For the World Health Organisation (WHO), washing one’s hands is more effective than wearing gloves. Kenya is standing firm after banning in June all single use plastic, including water bottles, in protected areas.

Some 350 million tonnes of plastic are produced annually — about half in Asia, 19 per cent in North America and 16 per cent in Europe.

According to a study in the US journal NEJM, coronavirus can remain for up to three days on plastic and for 24 hours on cardboard. While soaring demand for personal protective equipment and takeaway food containers has boosted sales of some plastics, it is likely to be only a temporary spike, say analysts.

The World Wildlife Fund estimated last year there are 600,000 tonnes of plastic waste polluting the Mediterranean.

A recent analysis of Asia’s worst ocean polluters shows Malaysians are the biggest individual consumers of plastic packaging, green group WWF said. The WWF report on plastics looked at China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – which contribute 60% of the estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic that enter the world’s oceans each year.

Globally the volume of plastic waste going into the ocean is set to quadruple between 2010 and 2050, meaning that the sea could contain more plastic by weight than fish by mid-century, the report noted.

The UAE has been waging its war against single use plastic – quite successfully. In March, The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi announced a policy to reduce the amount of single use plastic material in Abu Dhabi and mitigate its harmful effects. The comprehensive policy, which is the first-of-its-kind in the region, aims to keep plastics out of the environment and eliminate the use of avoidable single-use plastic and non-plastic materials by 2021 through fostering a culture of recycling and re-use and encouraging more sustainable practices in the community.

Through the new policy, the EAD will make Abu Dhabi free of single-use plastic bags by 2021.

According to a recent report, Bee’ah, the UAE’s leading environmental, recycling and waste management company, has achieved a 76 per cent waste diversion rate for the Emirate of Sharjah – the highest in the Middle East – and this is projected to reach 100 per cent in 2021 upon completion of the Middle East’s first waste-to-energy plant in Sharjah.

One only hopes that the return of single use plastic in mass use is temporary, as one expects the coronavirus to be.


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