The single-use plastic need from COVID-19 could worsen the plastic pollution epidemic

COVID-19 has ignited a global movement for personal protective equipment as governments, brands and public figures do what they can to protect civilians and our front-line workers.

Words by Louis Oliver


ou've probably read how the environmental benefits of COVID-19 have cleaned the air we breathe and the waters we see. It's true — nature is bouncing back across our planet. It's just the break we needed in the fight for the climate.

What may not be so obvious, is the need for our safety is causing a crippling impact on our efforts to remove single-use plastics from consumers. Personal protective equipment is made from plastic, the use case is accelerating throughout the pandemic, and it's being carelessly discarded on our streets.

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Societies concern about safety has sparked an increasing demand for single-use items in fear of cross-contamination. Bottled water, masks, gloves, and the dreaded plastic bags have been brought back in the name of public health.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, shops are taking extra steps to safeguard foods from the spread of the virus by adding layers of protective equipment and refusing shoppers to bring reusable bags. For the concerned citizens on the environmental impact, it's like we've taken three steps back in the push to eliminate single-use plastics from our shelves.


I've read that members of the plastic industry are using the pandemic as an opportunity to bring back single-use plastic bags with their campaign "Bag The Ban" positioning reusable bags as a public health risk. However, with very little evidence to strengthen their case.

Though, according to the New England Journal Of Medicine, experiments conducted in a recently published report indicated that the virus may last longer on plastic surfaces, than paper. Which leads me to think: is the additional plastic layer of everything, necessary?

"SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and the viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces."

Also emerging from uncertainties involving the risks of transmission, comes a temporary standstill of the recycling industry which means that the excess plastic we're using might not get recycled.

COVID-19 and its survivability on various surfaces have urged many municipalities and corporations to compromise their collection and recycling programs and taking protective measures on how solid waste is managed.

Synthetic materials are destroying our environment. Over time, the discarded protective equipment drifts its way into our water systems, float across country which eventually leads to our oceans.

While plastics such as gloves, masks and other PPE medical equipment are essential for protecting front line workers and civilians, we must stay true to efforts of sustainable consumerism post-COVID-19 and not fall back into the same destructive habits.