Why is no one talking about the plastic waste generated during COVID-19

According to Statista, as of July 2020, the volume of the coronavirus-related biomedical waste generated across India was 101 metric tons per day.
Why is no one talking about the plastic waste generated during COVID-19
COVID-19 has led to an increase in the amount of plastic waste generated. This waste includes PPE kits, gloves, masks and other biomedical waste Image source: Unsplash

In the first few days of the lockdown, since humanity was confined indoors; news about environmental reset made the rounds. Lakes turned pink and air quality bettered. Claims of clear air led to a lot of memes and Twitter trends. All in all, there was proof that the reduced CO2 emissions were helping the planet heal and feel better.

But there was a deal-breaker. The increase in plastic and bio-medical waste, owing to the pandemic. According to Statista, as of July 2020, the volume of the coronavirus-related biomedical waste generated across India was 101 metric tons per day. As per reports, Maharashtra was the largest contributor to this. The amount stands at about 17.5 metric tons per day.

Additionally, according to the data shared by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India generated over 18,000 tonnes of COVID-19 related bio-medical waste between June and September. It includes personal protective equipment (PPE), gloves, face masks, head cover, plastic coverall, hazmet suit, syringes. Among other gears and medical equipment used by both healthcare providers and patients. From the beginning of the lockdown, the amount of COVID-19 related bio-medical waste has only risen.

According to the graph for June, India generated 3,025.41 tonnes of COVID-19 related bio-medical waste. July saw a subsequent rise in number to 4,253.46 tonnes. It further spiked to 5,238.45 tonnes in August and 5,490 in September.

As per the last released data by CPCB, 4527.55 tons of biomedical waste generated in December 2020, Maharashtra being the highest at 629.30 tonnes.

Now consider complete reopening of the economy.

Despite all the industry shutdowns, this year will see an increase in waste generation. According to reports, India on an average, generates about 960 million tonnes of solid waste as by-products during industrial, mining, municipal, agricultural and other processes.

In addition to this, consider the amount of plastic and bio-medical waste generated while battling the pandemic. And as we reopen the economy, the numbers will only rise.

The Bridge Chronicle spoke to VS Vamsi Botlaguduru of IIT Bombay to understand his take on the matter. Botlaguduru is an Assistant Professor in the Environmental Science and Engineering Dept. He shares his thoughts on climate change and why we need to take immediate steps.

Climate change is a burning issue, but when we start talking about kickstarting the economy (after the pandemic), how do we do it without harming the world?

Economic growth and environmental sustainability can go hand in hand. But, do not have to be mutually exclusive. Greater reliance on developing science-based technological solutions to our energy needs is necessary. Along with that, phased out switch to alternative fuels will help. Through this, we can ensure economic growth, keeping the environmental impact at the lowest.

The lockdown also helped us understand the effectiveness of web-based communication. So the importance of office activities needs to be re-assessed. This way, we can reduce the demand from the transportation sector too.

Do you think we are doing enough to save the planet? What is your opinion are the most pressing issues that need to be dealt with immediately?

The complex global problem we are trying to address involves multiple stakeholders in different countries. So, we should understand that progress will be incremental, but we are taking some positive steps in the right direction and be very optimistic about the future. This is where young children will have a much greater role to play, which is the focus of our Young Earth Champions initiative. For example, the signing of the Paris climate agreement is a very significant development in the right direction.

Concerning the question on the most important issues that need to be dealt with, there are four major focus areas:

  1. Climate action/clean air

  2. Waste management

  3. Affordable and clean energy

  4. Clean water sanitization.

As a nation, these are some of the important areas we need to focus on.

Sony BBC Earth, in an attempt to address environmental issues, has organised Young Earth Champions, for young climate-conscious students. This platform aims to recognize and reward innovative ideas and inspire the young minds of India to think about a better, sustainable future.

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