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The Rise of Plastic During COVID-19

Nearly a month after the COVID-19 lockdown, many images showing a significant decline in air and water pollution went viral. In the media, photos of the canals of Venice and clear skies of cities often suffocated by smog, such as Jakarta and New Delhi, were splayed everywhere. The latter, according to The Washington Post, saw a 60% decrease in air pollution in a matter of days. Nonetheless, this wake up call on the human role in climate change helped environmental activists display the aftermath of ecological consciousness – and how it can be temporary. Although the air and select bodies of water were cleaner than they have been in decades, the rise of plastic waste has become more evident as we stay home.

Within the new realities that have arisen during the pandemic, disposable face masks and gloves have become the norm, with numbers such as 129 billion and 65 million units already used respectively on a monthly basis. Although most of them will end in landfills, the mismanagement of a select percentage will provoke contamination in the ocean and natural land. Aside from its thousand-year decomposition rate, it also presents risk and exposure to animals who may mistake the material for food, as is the case with turtles, fish, and birds. Alongside this, the rise of plastic bags, cutlery, and boxes for takeout purposes have caused an inevitable increase in household and establishment trash. Whereas a total of 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, the rise of single-use plastic during the pandemic is estimated to be 30% higher than in 2019.

Although the majority of plastic waste is produced by large scale companies, these numbers can be reduced if the majority of the population cuts back on plastic. Given the reality and magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic, a stride towards sustainability may seem difficult. However, by turning simple steps into customs, one can make a difference beyond the timeline of the quarantine. 

Recycling empty bottles of hand sanitizer

In a time when the use of hand sanitizer is extremely necessary, thoroughly cleaning it when the product is used up can make it viable for recycling. Most hand sanitizers are made of PET plastic, a type of plastic that can be easily recycled or reused. Also, most hand sanitizers are categorized as type 1 or 2 plastic, both of which are recycled in Puerto Rico. 

Ditch plastic bags 

For future supermarket or pharmacy trips, the use of cloth bags one may have at home is an easy yet effective effort to reduce the use of plastic bags. 

Go green when going out

Upon ordering takeout or delivery, ask your waiter or waitress if decomposable or carton takeout alternatives exist. If the option is not available, ask them not to include plastic forks, knives, or spoons in your order; instead, opt to use already-owned utensils at home. 

To learn more about how you can practice sustainability during the pandemic check out:

How to Recycle and Reduce Waste in Puerto Rico and Simple Habits You Need to Be More Eco-Friendly

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