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The plastic pandemic is just picking up speed

The worst of the corona pandemic seems to be over. But only now is the collateral damage becoming apparent: for example, in the case of plastic. Consumption and thus pollution have risen dramatically.


Maybe you still remember these beautiful pictures of turquoise blue and crystal clear water. In Venice, for example. The water was so clear that in some places you could see the reason, even dolphins returned for a short time. That was in April 2020, a few weeks after the corona pandemic began. We were also happy about this small ray of hope of the pandemic – but only briefly, as it turned out.

Because today the water venice looks like before, mass tourism has returned. And Venice is representative of the worrying developments around the world. Many people hoped that the pandemic had set in motion a U-turn. The opposite is true. Behind the scenes, pollution has steadily increased. In fact, the corona pandemic has caused an increase in plastic consumption of about ten percent worldwide.

In China, for example, 240 tons of plastic waste are currently generated per day – before the pandemic it was “only” 40 tons. In Germany, this is noticeable in many places. Garbage collectors suddenly have to pick up a lot more plastic waste, partly because many people could no longer go to the restaurant and instead buy more plastic-wrapped food or order food home.

But the biggest, newly added source of plastic are those products that have become part of our everyday lives for more than a year: masks, disposable gloves and other short-lived medical devices – and they are also the ones that play one of the biggest roles in the additional plastic pollution in rivers and seas. Plastic pollution in the oceans increased even before the pandemic: According to a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, about 230,000 tons of plastic flow into the Mediterranean alone every year, which corresponds to the content of more than 500 freight containers per day. But the addition of “pandemic plastic” will exacerbate the situation, as a Dutch study recently vividly demonstrated.

In it, the scientists not only investigated how the increased plastic consumption affects our oceans, but also evaluated images of marine animals that died from corona plastic products, such as masks in which they be tangled up. Asian marine conservationists estimate that more than 1.5 billion masks landed in our oceans last year.

After all, there is also good news. Recently, the European Union banned single-use plastic products. These include, for example, drinking straws, disposable tableware or certain drinking cups. However, restaurants and other businesses are allowed to use up inventories. In the long run, a reusable system makes more sense than a ban, because otherwise the plastic is often replaced by paper or aluminum, which also consumes many resources and can be harmful to the environment. Nevertheless, we are convinced that the new law is a first important step – which will hopefully soon be followed by others in the sense of a circular economy.