The Impact of Plastic PPE During COVID-19: How to reduce and dispose of our PPE waste more responsibly
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Personal protective equipment (PPE) has been a literal lifesaver during the coronavirus pandemic. But while this all-important household item has gone a long way to stemming the spread of COVID-19, a new threat has arisen in the form of excessive plastic waste.
With PPE serving such an important role in the fight against the virus, it would be foolish to suggest an outright reduction in usage. The trick heading forwards is understanding how to properly manage and sustain the equipment we’re wearing.
In this guide, we’ll look to do just that. With a focus on the current impact of PPE on the world, we’ll assess how you can responsibly manage your wastage, as well as the safest ways to dispose of the equipment you have used.
Despite doing so much good on a person-to-person basis, PPE is unfortunately not the best for the world around us. Let’s explore how much of an impact the sudden influx of plastic has had on the environment.
PPE and coronavirus
Given the sudden and rapid nature of the original outbreak of COVID-19, it was perhaps no surprise that the manufacturing of PPE struggled. Despite that, there were still billions of units produced across the world.
- Allowing the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities to fast track product safety assessment processes
- Letting PPE that lacked a European CE safety mark on the market (as long as they still met essential safety requirements)
- Ordering a public call for any companies who could provide PPE as part of their day-to-day work
Source: MAG Online Library
And while these drastic measures were useful in helping to fight the spread of the virus, the impact on the world around us was definitely not at the forefront of our minds.
This was up by nearly three times the usual figure, which sat at 2.43bn in 2019. But where is all this excess PPE going once it’s no longer usable?
Short-term PPE damage to the environment
The sudden influx of so much PPE unsurprisingly had a huge impact on nature across the world. With people unprepared for the management of this scale of plastic, drastic increases in the amount of waste in the natural world has been identified across the globe.
The Spanish region of Catalonia showed similar figures, with an increase of 350% by the end of April 2020 alone.
In just one day (February 24 2020), Wuhan was able to tear through as much as 200 tonnes of medical waste.
That number accounted for nearly four times as much as the city’s only facility capable of disposing of such waste. These excess levels of wastage are far from an isolated issue. Jordan’s King Abdullah University Hospital (KAUH) highlighted how the amount of PPE being thrown away continued to steadily rise at the height of the pandemic. Their numbers showed:
Looking closer to home, it’s really easy to see how this excess wastage translates. British beaches were one of the hardest hit areas. In November of 2020 up to a third of them were littered with discarded PPE.
While the regular offenders like plastic bottles and other types of drinks containers were found in abundance: