What to do with the waste, plastic and non-plastic, of the coronavirus?

If before this situation came to us we were already worried on the planet about the deployment of plastic and other waste, after all this time of confinement or isolation that we have, and which will continue to come to us as a precaution ... It is necessary to face this new problem that adds to the previous one, around the waste caused by this pandemic in the world.

The discarded gloves, wipes, masks, and bottles of disinfectant that people use to protect themselves and others are already scattered on parks, sidewalks, and roads in various locations. This problem is not limited only to where we live, but similar waste is already causing problems in metropolises such as New York, London, large Chinese, Latin American cities ... They have even reached uninhabited islands like Soko, a few kilometers from Hong Kong. , China, environmental experts tell us. "Until now, we have not found so many masks in such a remote place," says Stokes, who suspects that they come from nearby China or Hong Kong. "When they found them, it had only been between six and eight weeks since their use".

Yes, disposable gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are essential for those fighting the pandemic and are also widely used by the public. Because they are not always properly disposed of, nor are we clear on how to go about it, let alone an ecological culture…, ecologists fear negative consequences for wildlife and the fight against contamination by these plastics. "If they are thrown out into the street, when it rains, gloves and masks end up in the sea," explains Anastasia Miliou, a marine biologist and director of research at the Archipelago Institute for Marine Conservation, based in Greece.

Waste management problems are already systemic and therefore even disposable gloves and masks can end up in the environment. Also in Hong Kong, where garbage is rare, there are other ways that masks can reach the sea. "People are walking, they take out their wallet and a mask accidentally falls out of their pocket and even if they are thrown in the trash, they are light enough to fly. And once they enter the water, they pose a threat to marine life" .

In the Hong Kong waters, pink dolphins and green turtles pass through there. "A recently published study showed that plastic ends up filling up with algae and bacteria when it has been in the water long enough and smells like food for turtles."

On the other hand, those that do not end up in the environment or in the sea are not easy to deal with either. Let's just look at what's already happening where we live. I am personally impressed when I have to go out in our neighborhood, to see this waste thrown away in a bad way. The first days the cleaning of the streets was maintained more, but it no longer matters to throw a waste of these anywhere.

Although a setback in sustainability practices is understandable in a pandemic situation like the one we are experiencing, tackling the plastic waste crisis means not losing sight of the entire cycle of a product, from its design to the end of its useful life. "This should be the same whether it is a bottle of lemonade or a mask used in a hospital." Of course, this time of crisis does not help, when everyone has not only a mask, but of various".

For this reason, it seems urgent to me to attend to what the World Health Organization (WHO) continues to express that regular hand washing is what offers greater protection to stop the spread of COVID-19, rather than the use of rubber gloves and even masks, even if they are made of washable fabric that offer the necessary protection for the public. And what ecological standards have already been determining.

Not surprisingly, Pope Francis continues to insist, by all means, on the care of the planet. In this situation, we are attentive to the guidelines that are offered to us so that we can contribute to this care and that, on the one hand, the planet has gained with the rest of the days of isolation, we do not sweep it with this waste ... I know it is This panorama is very complex ... and it calls for global awareness.

Teresa Ramírez FI
Colombia
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