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Abstract

Plastics are essential in society as a widely available and inexpensive material. Mismanagement of personal protective equipment (PPE) during COVID-19 pandemic, with a monthly estimated use of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves globally, is resulting in widespread environmental contamination. This poses a risk to public health as a vector for SARS-CoV-2 virus, which survives up to 3 days on plastics, as well as impacts to ecosystems and organisms more broadly functions. Concerns over the role of reusable plastics as vectors for SARS-CoV-2 virus contributed to the reversal of bans on single-use plastics, highly supported by the plastic industry. While not underestimating the importance of plastics in the prevention of COVID-19 transmission, it is imperative not to undermine recent progress made in the sustainable use of plastics. There is a need to assess alternatives that allow reductions of PPE and reinforce awareness on the proper public use and disposal. Finally, assessment of contamination and impacts of plastics driven by the pandemic will be required once the outbreak ends.
COVID-19 pandemic repercussions on the use and
management of (micro)plastics
Joana C. Prata*1‡, Ana L.P. Silva2‡, Tony R. Walker3‡, Armando C. Duarte1, Teresa Rocha-
Santos1
1 Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies (CESAM) & Department of Chemistry,
University of Aveiro, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
2 Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies (CESAM) & Department of Biology, University
of Aveiro, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
3 School for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia,
B3H 4R2, Canada
KEYWORDS: Microplastics; Plastics; Single-Use Plastics; Personal Protective Equipment
(PPE), COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2
ABSTRACT: Plastics are essential in society as a widely available and inexpensive material.
Mismanagement of personal protective equipment (PPE) during COVID-19 pandemic, with a
monthly estimated use of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves globally, is resulting in
widespread environmental contamination. This poses a risk to public health as a vector for
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SARS-CoV-2 virus, which survives up to 3 days on plastics, as well as impacts to ecosystems
and organisms more broadly functions. Concerns over the role of reusable plastics as vectors for
SARS-CoV-2 virus contributed to the reversal of bans on single-use plastics, highly supported by
the plastic industry. While not underestimating the importance of plastics in the prevention of
COVID-19 transmission, it is imperative not to undermine recent progress made in the
sustainable use of plastics. There is a need to assess alternatives that allow reductions of PPE and
reinforce awareness on the proper public use and disposal. Finally, assessment of contamination
and impacts of (micro)plastics driven by the pandemic will be required once the outbreak ends.
Plastics revolutionized the modern world, contributing to great improvements in health through
food safety and disposable medical equipment. Their use in medicine as disposables allowed to
reduce the risk of the transmission of blood-borne pathogens as well as reduce expenses with
material cleaning and sterilization 1. Plastics now have a multitude of applications, with global
production reaching 359 million tons in 2018 2. However, indiscriminate use and waste
mismanagement have led to widespread environmental contamination of plastics. Over 5 trillion
plastic pieces are afloat in the world’s oceans 3, with an estimated annual contribution from
plastic waste transported by rivers of 1.2 - 2.4 million tons 4. The persistence, irreversibility and
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ubiquity of plastics in the environment, as well as potential effects on ecological communities
and ecosystem functioning, have led to their characterization as a planetary boundary threat 5.
Under environmental conditions, plastics may progressively fragment into pieces under 5 mm,
known as microplastics, which Microplastics (<5 mm), originating from intentional production
(primary) or by progressive fragmentation under environmental conditions (secondary), are of
special concern due to their small sizes and ubiquity which allowings interaction with a larger
number of organisms and hinderings environmental recovery 6.
The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), the agent of COVID-19, first arose in Wuhan, Hubei
Province, China, in late December 2019, likely originating from an animal source and causing
acute respiratory distress syndrome 7. In March 11th, 2020, the WHO Director-General declared
the COVID-19 could now be characterized as a pandemic as 118,000 infected were then spread
over 114 countries 8. The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) became essential to prevent
the infection of frontline healthcare workers treating asymptomatic and symptomatic patients and
to allow continued functioning of national healthcare systems 9. WHO estimated the monthly
needs of PPE for healthcare professionals as 89 million medical masks, 76 million gloves, 1.6
million goggles 10. However, public concerns over this highly contagious virus has also increased
the use of PPE by the general public in an attempt to contain the transmission, which remains
unquantified at a global scale. For Italy alone, a country with 60.4 million inhabitants 11,
estimated monthly needs of PPE for the population during deconfinement is estimated to be 1
billion face masks and 0.5 billion gloves per month 12. A similar consumption worldwide, in 7.8
billion inhabitants 13, would result in a monthly consumption of 129 billion face masks and 65
billion gloves. The widespread and indiscriminate use of masks has been controversial, as
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Western governments recommended against its use due to shortage, lack of evidence for
protection, lack of correct handling and disposal, and the false sense of security which may
increase risky behaviors 14. However, some scientists advise for the reconsideration of this
measure arguing that mass masking may play a role in reducing the transmission of the novel
coronavirus 15. Since then, the use of face covering or face masks by the public in public spaces
has been recommended or even enforced 16,17.
Concerns about incorrect disposal by the public were not unfounded, as used gloves and masks
can now be found littering public spaces (Figure 1). This potentially infectious litter will persist
in the environment, potentially fragmenting into microplastics, unless properly collected and
disposed of, as it mainly consists of plastics. Single-use face masks are made of plastics, such as
polypropylene, polyurethane or polyacrylonitrile, with classifications based on filtration capacity
varying in E.U. from FFP1 (80%), to FFP2 (94%), and FFP3 (99%), and in the U.S. from N95
(95%), to N99 (99%), and N100 (100%) 18. The recommended N95 masks, capable of filtering
air particulates <0.3 µm by 95%, are made of plastics such as polypropylene and polyethylene
terephthalate. Similarly, other disposable PPE, such as surgical gowns and masks, are made of
nonwoven materials (e.g., spunbond meltblown spunbond) often incorporating polyethylene,
polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate 19. Therefore, use and mismanagement of medical
waste by the public motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic are is contributing to the increasing
plastic contamination. Carried by wind, streams, rivers and currents, these plastics have the
potential to spread across the globe 20, and under effects of environmental conditions, break
down into microplastics 6. Due to persistence of plastics in the environment, PPE residues from
the COVID-19 pandemic will likely be a common debris item found in the environment for
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decades, potentially affecting biota at different environmental compartments and biological
systems.
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Figure 1. Environmental contamination caused by improper disposal of personal protection
equipment motivated by COVID-19 in Portugal (A), Hong Kong (B), and Canada (C) (Photo
credits: A, José Amaro; B, Gary Stokes; C, Justine Ammendolia).
However, considering the current scenario of pandemic, the role of plastics as vectors of diseases
has raised academic and public awareness and the attention of national and international
regulatory authorities 21. Plastic debris are known to adsorb organic and inorganic nutrients from
the environment, thus providing a relatively stable habitat for pathogenic bacteria and/or viruses
such as SARS-type, enhancing their diffusivity 22. Indeed, preliminary research on SARS-CoV-2
virus persistence on everyday surfaces in households or hospital settings revealed viable units in
plastic items or surfaces up to 72 hours after direct contamination 23. The persistence of SARS-
COV-2 virus on plastic debris may likely increase if the environmental conditions are favorable.
The use of disposable plastics to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission can, therefore, turn into a
threat to public health when considering the uncontrolled disposal of PPE. Although
transmission route for SARS-CoV-2 occurs mainly by person-to-person contact or via
respiratory droplets, contact with surfaces (fomites) can pose an alternative route of exposure to
the virus 24,25. Contaminated plastic waste can pose a risk which should be carefully addressed as
a possible route of transmission. For instance, the avian influenza virus (H6N2) inactivation rate
ranged from 30 to >600 days in landfill leachates, remaining infective during that period 26.
Inactivation rate for SARS-CoV-2 is not yet known. Exposure to this virus through waste is
especially relevant as an occupational risk for garbage collectors and other operators involved in
waste management. Even though evidence is still lacking for SARS-CoV-2 27, handling of
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contaminated waste has been found to be a risk factor for families caring for MERS-CoV
patients 28. COVID-19 viral RNA has also been found to contaminate numerous surfaces,
including trash cans 29, and face masks could harbor infectious SARS-CoV-2 up to 7 days 30,
potentially remaining infectious even after disposal. Contamination could result from the
presence of bodily secretions, contact with soiled hands, or spread through aerosol particles 31.
The large survival time on objects suggests that waste produced by infected individuals could
present viable SARS-CoV-2 32. Thus, waste should be considered infectious and properly
disposed and handled during the current pandemic 27.In addition to the potential for spreading
SARS-CoV-2, plastic waste accumulation during the COVID-19 pandemic may threaten public
health in other ways. For instance, plastic debris may increase the spread of antibiotic resistance
genes and bacteria in the environment, especially through wastewater 28. The accumulation of
high levels of plastic waste can also provide breeding grounds for vectors of zoonotic diseases,
such as mosquito Aedes spp. which is the vector of dengue and Zika and can reproduce in
puddles in plastic waste 31. The accumulation of large amounts of plastic debris can also increase
the flood risk in urban areas 32. These concerns are greater in low- and middle- income countries
which lack protective strategies and/or financial support for adequate waste management
practices and procedures during COVID-19 pandemic period (e.g., PPE for employees and waste
reclaimers, waste and wastewater treatment infrastructures).
The potential infectious threat triggered by urban waste, including PPE residues, have
stimulated the release of recommendations by entities responsible for regulating national waste
management. For instance, the Portuguese Environmental Agency released guidelines which
recommends all potentially contaminated domestic residues to be disposed of as mixed wastes
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(not recyclables) in sealed and leak-proof garbage bags, including used PPE, while the collection
of waste must be reinforced as well as preferential treatment by incineration, and if not possible,
by daily landfilling 33. The plastic recycling industry is also being impacted by reduced
separation of waste and recycling collection 34. In healthcare contexts, medical waste is expected
to be correctly disposed of. Disposal of infectious medical waste through incineration under high
temperatures, ensuring sterilization, followed by landfilling of residual ash is the primary method
used in developed nations 35. This disposal method is, so far, one of the best solutions to protect
public health from infectious wastes despite drawbacks of incineration, such as investment in
infrastructure and need for strict control of gas emissions 36. While often made of plastics,
disposable medical equipment and PPE are required for the preservation of public health,
especially during a pandemic. Recommended or not by health agencies, there is a need to
recognize the use of PPE by the general public. To prevent subsequent environmental problems,
there is a need to reinforce proper disposal of used PPE in sealed garbage bags and highlight the
problems of not doing so. Indeed, mismanaged PPE can contribute to global plastic
contamination but also act as potential vectors of the COVID-19 disease.
Concerns over the survival of the virus on contaminated surfaces have also led to the reversal
of policies to reduce single-use plastics in some jurisdictions. For example, several states in the
U.S. have recently rescinded or delayed plastic bag bans amid coronavirus fears. In New York,
the state-wide ban went into effect on March 1, 2020, but was delayed to May 15, 2020 as courts
effectively closed due to the implementation of COVID-19 social distancing measures 37. In
Massachusetts, the Mayor of Boston agreed to the re-introduction of plastic bags for retailers that
qualify as essential businesses under a state executive order. Subsequently, the Massachusetts
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Food Administration urged the Governor of Massachusetts to rescind bans on plastic bags and to
announce a ban on reusable shopping bags due to potential health threats to grocery store
workers 38. New Hampshire also announced a temporary ban on reusable bags during the
COVID-19 outbreak and requirement for the use of single-use plastic or paper bags in retail
stores 39. Additionally, Maine delayed the ban on single-use plastic bags from April 22, 2020, to
January 15, 2021, in order to combat the spread of COVID-19. In California, suspended fees on
single-use plastic bags and approved a pause in the redemption of beverage containers in stores
for 2 months, starting on the 23th
of April 40, with the city of San Francisco banning the use of
reusable items in stores, including reusable bags 41. Fees or bans on single-use plastic have been
postponed or suspended in Philadelphia 42, Connecticut 43, Hawaii 44, Oregon45, and Delaware46.
Similarly, in the UK a 5 p fee over plastic bags has been lifted for online deliveries 47 and bans
on plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers have been delayed by six months 48. Bans on single-use
plastics have also been delayed in Canada and in South Australia 49. In Italy, a 450 /t tax on
virgin plastics was postponed until 2021 50, and Scotland delayed its deposit return scheme until
202251. Likewise, private companies may prioritize the use of single-use plastics due to safety
concerns. For instance, the coffee chain Starbucks has temporarily banned reusable cups 52, while
Illinois grocery stores are banning the use of reusable bags 53.
Rescinding or pre-emptively enacting laws to ban plastic reduction legislation from being
implemented is not uncommon in the U.S., which is often triggered by plastic industry lobbyists
quoting food safety and hygiene concerns 53. For example, in Canada, the Canadian Plastics
Industry Association (CPIA) has frequently touted single-use plastic bags and other plastic
packaging as being hygienically superior or requiring fewer resources during production
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compared to reusable alternatives. However, CPIA arguments to support the widespread use of
single-use plastic bags for food and consumer safety are often based on studies funded they
themselves (see 54). Despite recent calls to reverse bans on plastic bags during the COVID-19
pandemic, no peer-reviewed studies have yet been published that document higher risks from
using reusable compared to single-use plastic bags (e.g. higher viral load). Viable SARS-CoV-2
virus persist longer on plastic surfaces than other materials, such as cardboard 23. It could be
argued that rescinding plastic bag bans could be premature, as many consumers have already
adjusted to using non-plastic alternatives following the implementation of these policies 55.
Moreover, it is unclear how reusable grocery bags could contribute to greater risk compared to
clothes or shoes, a potential risk that could also be mitigated with proper hand hygiene.
The demand for single-use plastics may also increase during the pandemic. Consumers have
shifted from worrying about environmental impacts to preferring plastic packaging due to
hygiene and health reasons during the pandemic 56. Thus, an increased demand for groceries,
healthcare products, and e-commerce packaging is expected, with decreases in the remaining
areas 57. This demand is likely to originate in food delivery and take-way packaging, since the
sector is growing rapidly (e.g. 12% increase in revenues for Grubhub)58, and pre-packed foods in
grocery shopping (e.g. 20 – 54% increase in pre-packed animal products) 59. Indeed, plastic and
corrugated grocery packaging is expected to increase by 14% in the U.S. 57, while a plastic
packaging company in Spain increased sales by 40% 60. Moreover, the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US recommend the use of disposable food service items
(e.g. utensils, dishes) for restaurants and bars 61, which will also increase demand for single-use
plastics. Conversely, household waste production has generally decreased during the pandemic,
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falling 17% in Catalonia, Spain 62, 30% in China 63, and 28% in Milan, Italy 64. In Milan, plastic
and metal waste decreased by 16.3% 64
, while plastic waste increased by 15% in Thailand 65
,
likely due to cultural factors. On the contrary, medical waste increased drastically, sometimes
exceeding treatment capacity, with an increase of 350% in Catalonia, Spain 66, and of 370% in
China 63. Proper treatment of urban waste was also hindered by a decrease in recycling capacity,
with 34% of recycling companies in the U.S. being partially or completely closed, which also
results from a decreased demand from industries and falling oil prices that favor the consumption
of virgin plastics 67. Therefore, the COVID-19 pandemic changed consumption patterns,
benefiting the use of single-use plastic packaging, but leading to an overall decrease in urban
waste production and hindering recycling efforts. On the other hand, demand for disposable PPE
in healthcare increased the production of medical waste, sometimes beyond treatment capacity,
requiring the development of alternative end-of-life treatments.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the role of plastics as an irreplaceable material to
society, proving an inexpensive and widely available feedstock to produce medical equipment.
Concerns about the role of reusable plastics as vectors for virus has led to reactive calls to
rescind bans on single-use plastics, supported by an opportunistic plastic industry and fearful
citizens alike. Despite this paradigm shift during the pandemic, it is necessary not to undermine
recent progress achieved in the phasing of redundant single-use plastics keeping in mind the
long-term consequences of widespread plastic contamination. Reducing the need and reusing
PPE is particularly important. Reductions can be achieved through an optimized use through
physical barriers, rationalized use of healthcare staff, quarantine, social distancing measures, and
cancelation of events and mass gatherings 68. Reusing can be achieved through the production of
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reusable PPE, which would also reduce the dependency on dwindling single-use stocks. For
instance, reusable elastomeric respirators, with strict cleaning and disinfection protocols, could
reduce the need for disposable masks 69. End-of-life of PPE should be handled as hazardous
infectious materials by healthcare professionals and citizens alike. While the healthcare sector
already has policies in place for the proper management of infectious waste, citizens require
information on proper use and disposal independently of government recommendations. This
include proper disposal as mixed waste in closed leak-proof bags. Alternatively, over-the-counter
PPE could be made of biodegradable polymers that degrade under environmental conditions if
improperly discarded, avoiding long-term contamination, despite the potential for containing
viable SARS-CoV-2 virus in the short-term. Finally, significant environmental contamination
with PPE has already occurred and will need to be assessed in terms of (micro)plastic
contamination in the post-pandemic.
AUTHOR INFORMATION
Corresponding Author
* pratajc@ua.pt, University of Aveiro, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
Author Contributions
Joana C. Prata: Conceptualization, Project administration, Visualization, Writing - original draft,
Writing - review & editing. Ana Luisa Silva: Conceptualization, Project administration,
Visualization, Writing - original draft, Writing - review & editing. Tony Walker:
Conceptualization, Project administration, Visualization, Writing - original draft, Writing -
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review & editing. Armando C. Duarte: Conceptualization, Supervision, Project administration,
Funding acquisition, Writing - review & editing. Teresa Rocha-Santos: Conceptualization,
Supervision, Project administration, Funding acquisition, Writing - review & editing. ‡These
authors contributed equally.
Funding Sources
Thanks are due to FCT/MCTES for the financial support
(UIDP/50017/2020+UIDB/50017/2020), through national funds. This work was also funded by
Portuguese Science Foundation (FCT) through scholarship PD/BD/135581/2018,
PD/BPD/114870/2016 and CEECIND/01366/2018 under POCH funds, co-financed by the
European Social Fund and Portuguese National Funds from MEC.
ABBREVIATIONS
PPE, Personal Protection Equipment.
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... Most of PPE consists of cheap single-use products made of plastic and synthetic fibres (Prata et al. 2020). Face masks and gloves are commonly made of plastics such as polypropylene, polyurethane, polyacrylonitrile, polyethylene, and polyethylene terephthalate, which can take up to 450 years to fully decompose (Zhang et al. 2021). ...
... During the crises, the demand for PPE surged by 300-400 % (FCDO 2021) 28 and clinical and household waste increased accordingly. Estimates suggest that 65 billion gloves and 129 billion facemasks have been used every month since the outbreak of COVID-19 (Prata et al. 2020). In Wuhan, at the height of the pandemic, about 240 tons of medical waste were generated per day, six times more than before the outbreak (Singh et al. 2020). ...
Technical Report
The COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdowns and export restrictions highlighted the vul-nerability of global trade and global value chains (GVCs). What is more, many commenta-tors argue that the likelihood of exogenous shocks that threaten international trade and GVCs, such as natural disasters, pandemics, or political conflicts will increase in the future. In light of the new global context and due to the experiences during the COVID-19 pan-demic, it is increasingly acknowledged in the scientific community and among policy-mak-ers that the resilience of critical and vulnerable GVCs needs to be strengthened in order to guarantee security of supply. However, a major shortcoming of the current debate on how to improve GVC resilience is that it is not linked to the issue of environmental sustainability. This report aims at addressing this link between GVC resilience and sustainability, both at the conceptual and the policy level.
... The transmission of pathogens attached to aerosols and droplets may promote the spread of airborne diseases [1,2]. Personal protective equipment like face masks can effectively prevent the infection from airborne pathogens, which has been demonstrated in the COVID-19 pandemic [3,4]. Meltblown fibers with large void space and electrostatic storage capacity are widely used in masks for its effective physical barrier and high gas permeance [5]. ...
Article
Airborne transmission of pathogens is the most probable cause for the spread of respiratory diseases, which can be intercepted by personal protective equipment such as masks. In this study, an efficient antiviral personal protective filter was fabricated by coupling the biocompatible curcumin (CCM) with nanofibrous polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) membrane. The CCM extracted from plants was first dissolved in acidified ethanol at a certain pH and temperature to optimize its loading concentration, antiviral activation, and binding forces on the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) support to form a pre-filtration layer at the front section of the filter. Ultrathin PTFE membrane was then fabricated on the antibacterial-antiviral PET support (A-A PET) by controllable heating lamination. This functional layer of the filter exhibits good gas permeance (3423.6 m³/(m²·h·kPa)) and ultrafine particles rejection rate (>98.79%). Moreover, the obtained A-A filter exhibit a high antibacterial rate against a variety of bacteria (E. coli, B. subtilis, A. niger, and Penicillium were 99.84%, 99.02%, 93.60%, 95.23%, respectively). Forthwith virucidal (SARS-CoV-2) efficiency of the A-A filter can reach 99.90% for 5 min. The filter shows good stability after 10 heating cycles, demonstrating its reusability.
... Politically, governments prioritised human health over environmental health, reversing or postponing plastic reduction policies and waste management strategies (Klemeš et al., 2020;Prata et al., 2020). This has resulted in a delay on impending bans for single-use plastic, particularly in the US (Greenpeace, 2020) and restrictions have been placed on recycling programmes in many countries worldwide (Irfan et al., 2021;Tripathi et al., 2020;Vanapalli et al., 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
The coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) has influenced resource use and how people interact with their environment, with changing priorities and competing public health factors affecting pro-environmental behaviours at individual, societal, business and political levels. We used data from an online plastic footprint calculator to explore temporal changes, purchasing patterns and consumer behaviours around on-the-go plastic use during the pandemic. We hypothesised that 1) people's plastic use when on-the-go would change in response to the pandemic and related government restrictions and; 2) single-use plastic use on-the-go would decrease during lockdown periods due to restrictions against leaving home. The calculator received 1937 responses, with 13,544 plastic items recorded. Most used were food wrappers (54 % of all items), takeaway containers (12 %) and bottles (9 %). Six out of seven items showed increased use during lockdowns, in-line with our first hypothesis, but not the second. Three times more bottles were used, food wrapper consumption almost doubled, and takeaway container use more than doubled. Increased container use occurred alongside increased takeaway meal consumption during lockdowns. Patterns were similar between different periods of lockdown, with no significant differences in the number used of any items, or percentage of respondents using them. Results indicate that during lockdown, people found it harder to avoid single-use plastic while on-the-go, supporting evidence from other studies that plastic use can be driven by perceptions of hygiene benefits and lack of “safe” alternatives. Our results indicate opportunities to reduce single-use plastic consumption and we provide examples of successful implementation. Our findings evidence that, when properly applied, government-led guidance can effectively support consumer choices for reduced plastic use, encourage use of reusables, increase provision of alternatives, and dispel hygiene myths. The sudden increase in plastic waste due to the Covid-19 pandemic amplifies the need to substantiate plastic reduction policy promises without further delay.
... However, the virus could survive only 3 h in the air [17]. Even after 7 days, used masks could still contain infectious SARS-CoV-2 RNA [18]. Therefore, whether wasted masks and released microplastics can act as carriers of bacteria or viruses, extending their spread under wind and water flow conditions requires further research. ...
Article
Full-text available
The global panic caused by COVID-19 has continued to increase people’s demand for masks. However, due to inadequate management and disposal practice, these masks have, unfortunately, entered the environment and release a large amount of microplastics (MPs), posing a serious threat to the environment and human health. Understanding the occurrence of mask waste in various environments, release of mask-origin MPs, and related environmental risk is essential to mask-waste management in current and future epidemic prevention and control. This paper focuses on the global distribution of mask waste, the potential release of waste-origin MPs, and the impact on the environment. Specifically, the physical and chemical properties of polypropylene (the most common plastic material in a mask), which show a high adsorption capacity for heavy metals and organic pollutants and play a role as a support for microbial growth, were extensively reported. In addition, several important issues that need to be resolved are raised, which offers a direction for future research. This review focuses on the essentiality of handling masks to avoid potential environmental issues.
... Next we compare MIDAS against the two baselines: computer vision and optical sensing. We test computer vision using 31 images depicting real tossed plastic objects [18]. In total, 33 separate plastic items were present in the 31 images. ...
Article
We contribute MIDAS as a novel sensing solution for characterizing everyday objects using thermal dissipation. MIDAS takes advantage of the fact that anytime a person touches an object it results in heat transfer. By capturing and modeling the dissipation of the transferred heat, e.g., through the decrease in the captured thermal radiation, MIDAS can characterize the object and determine its material. We validate MIDAS through extensive empirical benchmarks and demonstrate that MIDAS offers an innovative sensing modality that can recognize a wide range of materials-with up to 83% accuracy-and generalize to variations in the people interacting with objects. We also demonstrate that MIDAS can detect thermal dissipation through objects, up to 2 mm thickness, and support analysis of multiple objects that are interacted with.
... Comparisons are made using a range of data sources due to limited data availability. Production data: One company's (3M) USA-based monthly production of N95 masks from Hufford (2020), and China's daily production of medical masks from China's State Council Information Office (2020); Consumption data: Mask and glove consumption from Prata et al. (2020), other single-use plastics from EarthDay.org (2018); Disposal data: One city's (Bangkok, Thailand) healthcare waste data from Tsukiji et al. (2020), UK beach pollution survey data from Marine Conservation Society (2020), and fiber weathering data from Saliu et al. (2021). ...
Article
Plastic pollution is now present in all areas of our planet, including its last wilderness, Antarctica, and the plastic crisis has further escalated because of COVID-19. The pandemic has caused a significant increase in the global consumption of single-use protective items such as masks and gloves. These and other plastic items add to the suite of plastic pollution issues, from entanglement of wildlife to microplastic bioaccumulation. Given plastics are a major threat facing humans and wildlife, swift action to reduce plastic pollution is urgently needed. Solutions to plastic pollution are within reach. With collective, impactful action we will ensure a better future for our planet and ourselves. Here, we propose several measures for decision-makers to implement to achieve a solution and tackle plastic pollution as a united, global community.
Article
Emerging microplastics (MPs) pollution and continuing acid rain (AR) co-exist in terrestrial ecosystems, and are considered as threats to ecosystems health. However, few data are available on MPs-AR interactions in plant-microbe-soil systems. Here, a microcosm experiment was manipulated to elucidate the co-exposure of polyethylene MPs (PE MPs; 1%, 5% and 10%) and AR (pH 4.0) on soil-lettuce system, in which the properties of soil and lettuce, and their links were explored. We found that 10% PE MPs increased soil CO2 emission and its temperature sensitivity (Q10) in combination with AR, while 1% PE MPs reduced soil CO2 emission irrespective of AR. PE MPs addition did not influence lettuce production though its photosynthesis was affected. PE MPs exerted negative impact on soil water availability. PE MPs treatments increased NH4⁺-N content of soil without AR, and dissolved organic carbon content of soil sprayed with AR. 10% PE MPs combined with AR reduced soil microbial biomass, while soil microbial community diversity was less affected by PE MPs or AR. Interestingly, 10% PE MPs addition altered soil microbial community structure, and promoted the complexity and connectivity of soil microbial networks. 5% and 10% PE MPs addition decreased soil urease activity under AR, but this was not the case without AR. These findings highlight the critical role of AR in regulating MPs impacts on plant-microbe-soil ecosystems, and the necessity to incorporate other environmental factors when evaluating the actual implications of MPs pollution in terrestrial ecosystems.
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Since the start of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2; COVID-19) pandemic in December 2019, there have been global surges of single-use plastic use. Due to the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation items in protecting against virus transmission and from testing, facemasks, respirators, disposable gloves and disposable wet wipes have become global staples in households and institutions. Widespread use and insufficient infrastructure, combined with improper waste management have resulted in an emerging category of litter. With widespread presence in the environment, such items pose a direct threat to wildlife as animals can interact with them in a series of ways. We examined the scope of COVID-19 pandemic-related debris, including PPE and sanitation items, on wildlife from April 2020 to December 2021. We document the geographic occurrence of incidents, debris types, and consequences of incidents that were obtained from social media searches, unpublished reports from colleagues, and reports available from the citizen science database “Birds and Debris”. There were 114 unique sightings of wildlife interactions with pandemic-related debris (38 from 2020 and 76 from 2021). Within the context of this dataset, most incidents involved birds (83.3 %), while fewer affected mammals (10.5 %), invertebrates (3.5 %), fish (1.8 %), and sea turtles (0.9 %). Sightings originated in 23 countries, and consisted mostly of entanglements (42.1 %) and nest incorporations (40.4 %). We verified sightings by contacting the original observers and were able to identify replicated sightings and increase the resolution of the data collected compared with previously published results. Due to the complexities associated with global use and accessibility of digital platforms, we likely underestimate the number of animals harmed by debris. Overall, the global scope of this study demonstrates that online and social media platforms are a valuable way to collect biologically relevant citizen science data and track rapidly emerging environmental challenges.
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Nowadays, trillions of used face masks have caused serious environmental pollution, biological risk and energy waste due to improper disposal. It is highly necessary to disinfect and recycle the used masks. In this paper, a sustainable vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) treatment for disinfection of N95 masks was first studied. Typical antibiotic-resistant E. coli were completely inactivated with decreased abundances by 65.82% for 16S rRNA and 76.75% for SHV-4 (an antibiotic-resistance gene) in 5 min, which was further decreased by more than 90% after the prolonged treatment. The mechanism was demonstrated that VUV could damage the exterior structure and interior DNA of E. coli cells due to the synergy of UV, O3 and extensive reactive oxygen species (ROS). The treated N95 masks had no structural damage and functional decline, and were up to the reuse standard. Moreover, a VUV disinfection equipment was fabricated, which can inactivate E. coli cells on the face masks in a few seconds and keep the used masks intact after 20 cycles of disinfection. This study provides a fast, deep and economical disinfection strategy for masks recycling, which can effectively reduce the consumption of fossil energy and plastic pollution to maintain sustainable development.
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Full-text available
This article discusses the potential ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic on waste and wastewater services, focusing on critical points where alternative operating procedures or additional mitigation measures may be advisable. Key concerns are (i) the long half-life of the virus on materials such as waste containers, bags, and in wastewater, and (ii) possible transmission via contaminated waste surfaces and aerosols from wastewater systems. There are opportunities to further the science of wastewater-based epidemiology by monitoring viral RNA in wastewater to assess disease prevalence and spread in defined populations, which may prove beneficial for informing COVID-19 related public health policy.
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Full-text available
With the rapid spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that results in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), corporate entities, federal, state, county, and city governments, universities, school districts, places of worship, prisons, health care facilities, assisted living organizations, daycares, homeowners, and other building owners and occupants have an opportunity to reduce the potential for transmission through built environment (BE)-mediated pathways. Over the last decade, substantial research into the presence, abundance, diversity, function, and transmission of microbes in the BE has taken place and revealed common pathogen exchange pathways and mechanisms. In this paper, we synthesize this microbiology of the BE research and the known information about SARS-CoV-2 to provide actionable and achievable guidance to BE decision makers, building operators, and all indoor occupants attempting to minimize infectious disease transmission through environmentally mediated pathways. We believe this information is useful to corporate and public administrators and individuals responsible for building operations and environmental services in their decision-making process about the degree and duration of social-distancing measures during viral epidemics and pandemics.
Article
Full-text available
Alarming plastic production growth worldwide reinforces the public debate about the prevailing environmental crisis, whereby single-use-plastic (SUP) items are considered as by far the most harmful to the environment and public health. Accordingly, European environmental policy aims at eliminating SUP. Recently, we presented a model of plastic governance that derives from a circular economy approach identifying and taking into consideration perspectives of different actors in the plastic governance, such as producers, wholesalers, shop keepers, consumers, citizen scientists, and academia. Our results illustrate that the vast majority of stakeholders cared for the natural environment and understood the need to phase out SUP from the global economy. We proposed that a knowledge brokerage, undertaken by scientists via means of citizen science, as the most effective method to implement elimination policy, as it provides stakeholders with knowledge on why and how to handle SUP issues. However, at the time of the global COVID-19 pandemic, a plastic governance model required a re-assessment. The perceived role of SUP has changed, as it reflects the health emergency. Namely, due to the health safety reasons stakeholders and consumers are requesting even more SUP than previously. Following up on our data gathered prior to the pandemic, we suggest that under the new circumstances health concerns outweigh the environmental concerns being determined by a shift in the value hierarchization. The paper discusses preliminary results.
Article
Full-text available
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak has been designated a public health emergency of international concern. To prepare for a pandemic, hospitals need a strategy to manage their space, staff, and supplies so that optimum care is provided to patients. In addition, infection prevention measures need to be implemented to reduce in-hospital transmission. In the operating room, these preparations involve multiple stakeholders and can present a significant challenge. Here, we describe the outbreak response measures of the anesthetic department staffing the largest (1,700-bed) academic tertiary level acute care hospital in Singapore (Singapore General Hospital) and a smaller regional hospital (Sengkang General Hospital). These include engineering controls such as identification and preparation of an isolation operating room, administrative measures such as modification of workflow and processes, introduction of personal protective equipment for staff, and formulation of clinical guidelines for anesthetic management. Simulation was valuable in evaluating the feasibility of new operating room set-ups or workflow. We also discuss how the hierarchy of controls can be used as a framework to plan the necessary measures during each phase of a pandemic, and review the evidence for the measures taken. These containment measures are necessary to optimize the quality of care provided to COVID-19 patients and to reduce the risk of viral transmission to other patients or healthcare workers.
Article
The COVID-19 pandemic has had growing environmental consequences related to plastic use and follow-up waste, but more urgent health issues have far overshadowed the potential impacts. This paper gives a prospective outlook on how the disruption caused by COVID-19 can act as a catalyst for short-term and long-term changes in plastic waste management practices throughout the world. The impact of the pandemic and epidemic following through the life cycles of various plastic products, particularly those needed for personal protection and healthcare, is assessed. The energy and environmental footprints of these product systems have increased rapidly in response to the surge in the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide, while critical hazardous waste management issues are emerging due to the need to ensure destruction of residual pathogens in household and medical waste. The concept of Plastic Waste Footprint (PWF) is proposed to capture the environmental footprint of a plastic product throughout its entire life cycle. Emerging challenges in waste management during and after the pandemic are discussed from the perspective of novel research and environmental policies. The sudden shift in waste composition and quantity highlights the need for a dynamically reponsive waste management system. Six future research directions are suggested to mitigate the potential impacts of the pandemic on waste management systems.