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Plastic in times of COVID-19

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Not so far away, we can see that when we go out we find thousands of masks and plastic gloves that people throw away irresponsibly. If we go to the beach or to our beloved Mediterranean, we can see with the naked eye how this, which protects humans so much, actually damages nature. Normally every year 100 million tons of plastic waste are dumped and a tenth of it goes to the sea. Plastic is choking the planet and is one of the main threats to the health, the environment and the economies of the world.

Millions of turtles, birds and marine mammals die by drowning, trapped in the plastic traps they find in the seas or by ingesting plastic fragments, many of which end up on our plates, also putting our health at risk. The massive use of gloves and masks that help protect us from possible infections is becoming the new enemy of our seas and oceans.

 

We cannot let the Covid-19 crisis be a reason to increase the production of plastics, we must continue to advance in the elimination of single-use plastics and in a new circular economy. Despite this, many of us still do not know how to get rid of the protections and the mismanagement of medical and protection equipment against the coronavirus is polluting seas, oceans and coastal areas. Unfortunately, all these hygienic items, such as gloves, masks and gel containers, are not made from biodegradable materials and cannot be part of the recycling cycle. They are ephemeral and necessary to protect us from COVID-19 and must be used following the instructions of the Administration and health authorities. Therefore, extreme precautions must be taken when disposing of them and follow the following steps:

  • Separate all the protective articles already used from the rest of the waste.
  • Put them in an insulated plastic bag and then this same one inside another.
  • Deposit it in the domestic waste or waste fraction container (gray container).
  • In the event that the protective material has been used by a person sick with coronavirus, instead of two bags, three should be used.
  • In both cases, you should always wash your hands thoroughly after handling the waste.

Many scientists estimate that the virus can last around seven days in a mask and that its presence lasts longer in plastic than in other materials. If these protective items are not recycled properly, pathogens can affect other people and have a great impact on nature, so we must not confuse gloves with containers, even if they are both plastic, nor place them in any of the containers intended for other materials such as organic, packaging, paper, glass or textile and even less throw them on the street or in nature.

According to Sara Güemes, Ecoembes coordinator of the Libera Project, “in the current circumstances we must insist on a very clear message: gloves, masks and other protective material must always go to the gray container, never to the yellow one. Just like the garbage that is generated in a house with some infected member: always gray. And in the rest of the homes, continue recycling as always ”.

Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace agree that people's health is above any other goal, but they regret that the fight against the coronavirus will not bring a greener planet. In mid-March, members of Ocean Asia found thousands of used masks on the beaches of the Soko archipelago, which is located between Hong Kong and Lantau, a disaster that is expected to repeat itself in many other parts of the world if the population is not aware. Some manufacturers, such as the Valencian company Closca Design, meanwhile bet on washable and reusable masks to try to minimize the problem.

The state of alarm was decreed in Spain only eight days after our country joined the European Plastics Pact, an international initiative that aims to accelerate the transition towards the circular economy of this material by 2025. The European Union planned to ban plastics. single-use plastics from 2021, but the emergence of the coronavirus is going to make it difficult. It seems inevitable that the world is going to fill with gloves, masks, wipes, gels, face shields, protective screens or waterproof gowns, at the same time that plastic packaging in supermarkets or in mail order increases. Therefore, perhaps the most immediate contribution that the average consumer can make in favor of the planet is to deposit this waste in the right place.

 

 

Gary Stokes from Oceans Asia with a collection of used tags found on a beach in Soko (OA)

To contribute a small grain of sand and love to our planet, we recommend:

  1. Use cloth masks, which can be washed and reused.
  2. Be aware when choosing gloves, alcohol gel or soap. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Frequent hand washing provides more protection against the spread of COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves. The fact of wearing them does not prevent contagion, since if you touch your face while wearing them, the contamination passes from the glove to the face and can cause infection "
  3. Support WFF by signing the petition for the fight against plastic pollution in nature.
  4. PICK UP THE GLOVE! For a #NatureWithoutPlastics #CuidamosElMar

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