Entering the global pandemic, it appeared there could be a possibility of an environmental silver lining, with lockdowns keeping people away from the roads and skies, and a decrease in people outside to litter. Whilst air pollution has seen radical improvements, the same cannot be said for our oceans. Heading into a second UK lockdown, it is apparent that Covid-19 has stunted the fight against plastic pollution, as we see waves upon waves of single-use plastic rising.
The Marine Conservation Society found some shocking results when they completed their Great British Beach Clean 2020. Nearly 30% of beaches in England found PPE on, including gloves and face masks, almost 30 drinks containers, caps and lids were found per 100m of surveyed beach and over 69% of inland litter picks found PPE. Despite plastic being around for over 100 years, it was initially considered a marvel, but now, with added plastic from PPE, it is slowly destroying our planet and our wildlife.
Throughout 2020 we have seen the government retract the progress we have made in combatting the plastic pollution crisis, postponing the ban on straws, stirrers and cotton-bud sticks, the 5p plastic bag charge being waived for food deliveries, and a spike in single-use plastics for PPE and wrapping. Covid-19 has triggered an estimated global use of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves every month, the majority of which cannot be recycled, and arrive in single-use plastic packaging.
Not only is the PPE not recyclable, they are also being vastly littered around beaches and other outside areas, harming the environment and its wildlife in the process. A more environmentally friendly, reusable alternative has not been widely communicated as of yet, but thankfully more and more people are being made aware and purchasing multi-use masks. Disposable masks can be mistaken for jellyfish, the main food source for turtles and other ocean animals. When consumed, they can immensely damage the turtles, and even kill them. While the PPE has been essential in protecting ourselves and others during the pandemic, it is vital that we now consider the effects on other forms of life and dispose of plastics properly to protect our beaches.
With millions of Brits wearing face masks as a force of habit now, the convenience of purchasing disposable face masks and disposing of them once used, has become an easy way to aid the plastic pollution problem without realising. However, it is a situation that can be avoided. Many people have been making their own masks with old T-shirts or left over fabric. Now we are entering the second lockdown, reusable face masks are sold everywhere, both online and in stores.
There are so many ways that we can reduce our plastic usage. Why not try a few small steps that will make a massive difference.
- Instead of wearing Latex gloves, just wash your hands regularly and always carry hand sanitiser with you.
- Buy soap bars rather than plastic bottles of hand wash. The same goes for shampoo and conditioner, many companies are creating bars that last you twice as long than bottles.
- Definitely give reusable face masks a go. Not only will the planet thank you, but so will your purse. But if you must use PPE then ensure they are disposed of correctly.
These are just a few ways in which we can help mask the problem.
If we all made one small change today, whether that’s investing in a reusable face mask, or buying a broccoli without plastic packaging, that would be a step in the right direction. A small step that would make a huge difference. What’re you going to change?
By Helen Hunt and Isabel Astill