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The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected human lifestyle in numerous ways and one such key affected social element is the management of household plastic waste. Due to its effective barrier properties against the COVID-19 virus, usage and consumption of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other single-use plastic (SUP) products have increased exponentially to meet the accelerated demand. Therefore, this paper analyses the changes in community behavioural patterns of household plastic waste management with the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic situation in Sri Lanka. The comparative analysis of majorly consumed plastic waste types, plastic disposal methods, and perceptions of existing policies before and after the pandemic are broadly discussed. A comprehensive questionnaire was conducted in a randomly sampled community and analysed using SPSS. Disposable face masks (39.9%) and hand sanitiser products (33.0%) were popular plastic products during the pandemic. The frequency of handing over the waste to collectors and recycling centres decreased slightly, from 32.1% to 31.4% and 24.2%–19.8%, respectively. Conversely, respondents’ preference for burning plastic waste increased from 23.4% to 27.0% after the pandemic. The plastic disposal methods from before and after the pandemic are significantly associated with income level (p = 0.00) and employment status (p = 0.00). No significant association was observed between the disposal method before the pandemic and the education level of respondents (p = 0.185). However, a significant association was evident between the disposal method after the pandemic and the education level of respondents (p = 0.025).
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Case Report
Analysis of the community behavioural patterns in management of
household plastic waste due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka
Rohantha Rukshan Jayasinghe
a
, Wasudha Prabodhani Abeyrathna
a
,
*
, Daniel Lythgoe
b
,
Manuja Promodya Hendawitharana
a
, Champika Liyanage
b
, Karl Williams
b
,
Rangika Umesh Halwatura
a
a
Department of Civil Engineering, University of Moratuwa, Bandaranayake Mawatha, Katubedda, Sri Lanka
b
School of Engineering, University of Central Lancashire, Fylde Rd, Preston, United Kingdom
ARTICLE INFO
Keywords:
COVID-19
Single-use plastics
Waste management
Community behaviour
Policy perceptions
ABSTRACT
The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected human lifestyle in numerous ways and one such key affected
social element is the management of household plastic waste. Due to its effective barrier properties against the
COVID-19 virus, usage and consumption of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other single-use plastic
(SUP) products have increased exponentially to meet the accelerated demand. Therefore, this paper analyses the
changes in community behavioural patterns of household plastic waste management with the prevailing COVID-
19 pandemic situation in Sri Lanka. The comparative analysis of majorly consumed plastic waste types, plastic
disposal methods, and perceptions of existing policies before and after the pandemic are broadly discussed. A
comprehensive questionnaire was conducted in a stratied randomly sampled community and analysed using
SPSS. Disposable face masks (39.9%) and hand sanitiser products (33.0%) were popular plastic products during
the pandemic. The frequency of handing over the waste to collectors and recycling centres decreased slightly,
from 32.1% to 31.4% and 24.2%19.8%, respectively. Conversely, respondents preference for burning plastic
waste increased from 23.4% to 27.0% after the pandemic. The plastic disposal methods from before and after the
pandemic are signicantly associated with income level (p =0.00) and employment status (p =0.00). No sig-
nicant association was observed between the disposal method before the pandemic and the education level of
respondents (p =0.185). However, a signicant association was evident between the disposal method after the
pandemic and the education level of respondents (p =0.025).
1. Introduction
The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly become the worst crisis of our
lifetime, spreading to nearly all countries with a global death toll of
more than 4.8 million and conrmed cases of more than 230 million
people by October 2021 [1]. The use and consumption of personal
protective equipment (PPE) and other single-use plastics (SUP) such as
polythene bags, face masks, gloves, face shields, and hand sanitiser
products have increased exponentially to supply the massive demand
created by the pandemic. Therefore, one of the signicant side effects of
COVID-19 is the sudden surge in SUP product usage that threatens to
intensify plastic pollution further. Thus, to sustain the demand for
COVID-19-related plastic products (including PPE, face masks, gloves,
and face shields), many government regulations were withdrawn or
relaxed during the pandemic in many countries [2,3].
Additionally, due to the lockdown and travel restrictions, the usage
of online shopping and delivery services has increased, resulting in an
exponential growth in plastic bag usage [4]. COVID-19-related plastic
waste is considered contaminated plastic waste (CPW) and should be
handled with care because it can be a potential carrier to spread the
novel coronavirus. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, plastic waste man-
agement was already considered a major environmental issue in
terrestrial and marine ecosystems [5].
The global impact of plastic pollution has a detrimental effect on
ora and fauna, social well-being, and community health [6]. To pro-
vide some examples, the waterproof nature of mismanaged plastic
makes it an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, leading to the spread
of disease, and the breakdown of plastics into macro- and microplastics
* Corresponding author.
E-mail address: wasu92@gmail.com (W.P. Abeyrathna).
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Received 23 June 2022; Received in revised form 23 July 2022; Accepted 8 August 2022
Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering 6 (2022) 100246
2
can affect organisms through bioaccumulation and, more visibly,
entanglement [7,8]. The scale and damage imposed by mismanaged
plastic waste are already causing problems worldwide due to the dura-
bility and inexpensive nature of plastics and the changes in social
practices of consumption [9,10].
The public fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus, paired with
government-implemented lockdowns, has led to a drastic change in the
lifestyles of people staying at home or working from home, through
travelling less, shopping online more, and ordering takeaway food.
These changes have shifted large amounts of waste from commercial
sectors to households [11]. This increased accumulation of waste at the
household level is due to the cheap and convenient method for con-
taining products, the increased use of PPE, and the perception that SUP
act as a hygienic barrier to protect against the virus. This increase can be
genuinely appreciated as plastic bag bans implemented to stop plastic
pollution have been quashed to allow people to use them for protection,
given concerns regarding reusable bags [12,13]. This increase has been
facilitated by the plastics industry, which has promoted the idea that
plastic-based items are safe and hygienic [14,15]. Although these items
barrier properties can prevent the transmission of virus spread, they can
also act as a viable transmission route for viruses through indirect
transmission (fomite transmission) [16]. The COVID-19, SARS-CoV2
and MERS-CoV coronaviruses are viable on plastics [17,19]. According
to the previous studies, the life span of SARS-CoV2 on plastic is seven
days [20], while MERS-CoV remains viable at 48 hours at 20 C and 40%
relative humidity [18]. Although, the virus still infects cells even after its
retention time [17]. Therefore, for plastics to be an effective barrier and
reduce the spread, the general public needs to ensure that other miti-
gation behaviours are followed, e.g., handwashing, sanitation, and mask
use [21].
Sri Lanka is one of the top eleven countries, indicating Asias highest
mismanagement of plastic waste [22]. Sri Lanka produces 2.6 million
plastic waste per year [23]. Being a 3rd world developing country, Sri
Lanka lacks adequate local waste collection facilities and treatment
infrastructure [23]. Waste management systems are already at
maximum capacity to deal with plastic waste locally as COVID-19
threatens to overcome the existing waste management systems due to
further waste build-up. If the current trends continue, many plastics will
end up in an open environment, threatening natural ecosystems [24,25].
Signicantly few scholarly articles to date have addressed the impact
of COVID-19 on household plastic waste in the local context. Further-
more, to our knowledge, none have identied community behavioural
patterns. The case study expects to identify the community behaviour
before and after the COVID-19 pandemic and provide a holistic view for
the authorities to propose immediate action plans for plastic waste
management and plastic-related policy implementation.
2. Methods
This study seeks to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic affects
community behavioural patterns in household plastic waste manage-
ment. Initially, by obtaining data through various government regula-
tions and documents, a questionnaire was developed to investigate the
community behavioural approach due to the pandemic situation
regarding plastic waste. A pilot survey was conducted (with a sample
size of 100) to validate the questionnaire further. The sampling method
was stratied random sampling. The nal questionnaire was distributed
among randomly selected households. One thousand thirty-three re-
sponses were collected from the September 15, 2020 to the February 15,
2021.
2.1. Demographic prole of respondents
Among the respondents, 56.9% were male, and 43.1% were female.
For the analysis, the data were categorised into ages 1824, 2530, and
3175.47.1% of the respondents belonged to the 1824 age group, and
27.5% and 25.4% belonged to the 2530 and 3175 age groups,
respectively. Furthermore, most of the respondents (49.6%) were
located around suburban areas, and 38.2% and 12.2% were from urban
and rural areas.
Regarding the respondents highest educational level, 64.1% had
bachelors degrees, 25.8% were secondary school graduates, 9.5% had
post-graduate qualications, and 0.6% had lower academic levels than
the other respondents. The employment status of majority of the re-
spondents (54.8% and 34.8%) were students and full-time employees. A
total of 5.2% of respondents were self-employed, and 2.4% were retired.
Unemployed or part-time employees were 1.5% and 1.2%, respectively
(Table 1).
The demographic data indicate that 70% of the respondents have
bachelors degrees or higher educational qualications and consist of
younger participants (47%). Hence, we assumed that the respondents
were aware and knowledgeable about the current COVID-19 situation
and plastic waste management. As such, obtained data from the par-
ticipants were considered more reliable.
According to the census data obtained from the most recent Popu-
lation and Housing data-2020[26], the population density of Sri Lanka
and the questionnaire respondents distribution were plotted as shown
in Fig. 1. Each district was considered as a stratum and randomly
selected a representative sample according to the districts population. A
cross-sectional analysis of the data indicated that the sample population
distribution characteristics were considerably similar to the population
density data.
3. Results and discussion
Here, we discuss how behavioural patterns are affected by gender,
educational levels, monthly income levels, and employment status in the
community. We also identify the community levels that should be pri-
oritised to manage COVID-19-related plastic waste.
Table 1
Sociodemographic characteristics of the participants (n =1033).
Variable Group/Item Frequency % of the
respondents
Gender Male 444 43
Female 589 57
Age 1824 487 47
2530 272 26
3175 274 27
Education level Uneducated 4 0.6
Elementary 2 0.4
Secondary 267 26
Bachelor Degree 662 64
Post Graduate 98 9
Area Urban 395 38
Sub-urban 512 50
Rural 126 12
level of income (
a
per
Anum)
Below 1200$ 214 21
1200$ 3600$ 210 20
3600$ - 6000$ 221 21
Above 6000$ 130 13
Prefer not to say 258 25
Employment status Employed Full
time
360 35
Employed Part-
Time
16 2
Self-employed 54 5
Unemployed 12 1
Student 566 55
Retired 25 2
a
The level of income was calculated in LKR during the study period and
converted into USD for better understanding.
R.R. Jayasinghe et al.
Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering 6 (2022) 100246
3
3.1. Pre-COVID and post-COVID plastic consumption
Several main SUPs were identied before and after the COVID-19
pandemic. Pre-pandemic grocery bags (35.2%), food packaging con-
tainers (23.8%), and plastic bottles (21.5%) were found to be the most
prominent SUPs used. While coffee cups & lids, plastic straws and plastic
cotton buds usage were identied as 8.2%, 6.3% and 5.1%, respec-
tively. According to the analysis, most respondents, irrespective of their
age, income level, or education, consume plastic products daily. A total
of 18%20% of urban, suburban, and rural respondents use plastic,
grocery bags, and food packaging containers signicantly. When cross-
tabulating the SUP products and age groups, nearly 22% of re-
spondents from the 3175 age group use plastic bottles, and 19.5% use
coffee cups and lids daily. Among the COVID-19-related plastic waste,
disposable face masks (39.9%), hand sanitiser products (33.0%), gloves
(14.5%), and face shields (12.5%) were identied as the products which
were used as preventive measures against COVID-19.
Cross-analysis was carried out for COVID-related plastic products
and employment status. Full-time employees, retired people, and stu-
dents tend to use disposable face masks and hand sanitiser products.
However, the retired respondents (usually age 60+) use face shields
(20.4%) as protective equipment with face masks and hand sanitiser
products. COVID-19 is often more severe among people above 60 or with
health conditions [27]. Thus, using face shields with other protective
products was common among the older community as an extra protec-
tive step.
3.2. Hypothesis analysis
The Cronbachs alpha test has been conducted for the data used in
hypotheses to test the validity of the responses collected. Hypothesis 01
=0.76, Hypothesis 02 =0.85, Hypothesis 03 =0.80 and Hypothesis 04
=0.92.
3.2.1. Pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 plastic disposal
The main waste disposal methods in Sri Lanka are open dumping,
burning, burying, recycling, and handing over to waste collectors [28].
A ranked question was asked from respondents to receive the most ac-
curate disposing methods they followed before COVID-19 and after
COVID-19 situations. Figs. 2 and 3 show the respondentsplastic waste
disposal methods before COVID-19 and the disposal methods according
to their area.
Analysis indicated that the respondents rst preferred waste
disposal method is handing over to collection irrespective of the
pandemic. However, a slight reduction (32.1%31.4%) in handing over
the waste post-COVID-19 was observed. The second most-followed
method has changed post-pandemic; respondents tend to burn the
waste rather than hand it over to recycling centres. A possible reason for
this nding is that recycling during the COVID-19 outbreak was a
massive challenge because recycling programs and facilities were shut
down [29], and people preferred to destroy their plastic waste rather
than get exposed. According to the guidelines prepared by the World
Health Organization [30], burning CPW would be effective at elimi-
nating COVID-19, although burning plastic waste would be a huge
problem considering its environmental impacts.
Few hypotheses were created to analyse a few rationales to test
whether consumersopinions or behaviour patterns changed due to the
pandemic.
Hypothesis 01. H
0
=There is no signicant association between
disposal patterns before the pandemic and the
educational levels of the respondents.
H
1
=There is a signicant association between disposal patterns
before the pandemic and the educational levels of the respondents.
Hypothesis 02. H
0
=There is no signicant association between
disposal patterns after the pandemic and the
educational levels of the respondents.
H
1
=There is a signicant association between disposal patterns
after the pandemic and the educational levels of the respondents.
The association between the disposal patterns of pre-and post-COVID
pandemic and the educational levels of the respondents was tested using
the chi-square test. The results show no signicant association between
Fig. 1. (a) Sri Lankan population distribution and (b) the respondents distribution.
R.R. Jayasinghe et al.
Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering 6 (2022) 100246
4
the disposal method before COVID and the academic level of a person (p
=0.185), where the H
0
of hypothesis 01 is accepted. The analysis proved
that there is a signicant association between the disposal method after
COVID and a persons education level (p =0.025); H
0
of hypothesis 02
was rejected. A possible reason for this nding is the increased ability of
an educated person to grasp the knowledge from the sources compared
with an uneducated person [31].
The information ow to the public about COVID waste management
is crucial during the pandemic. The awareness of handling COVID
plastic waste is essential, and many institutions, including the Central
Environmental Authority (CEA), local authorities, and public media,
took the initiative to shoulder this responsibility.
Questions were asked to obtain the general perception of re-
spondents about whether they had received information about how to
Fig. 2. Respondentsplastic waste disposal methods prior to the COVID-19.
Fig. 3. Respondentsplastic waste disposal methods vs area where they live.
Fig. 4. The sources of information of the COVID related plastic waste management.
R.R. Jayasinghe et al.
Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering 6 (2022) 100246
5
manage or dispose of plastic waste during the pandemic. 73% of re-
spondents in urban and 53% in sub-urban regions have received the
information. However, only 36% of respondents from rural areas have
received the data (Fig. 4).
The most effective medium for spreading the information is media
(93%) and communication (77%). Respondents stated that CEA (3%)
and employers (8%) receive less information. In Sri Lanka, the CEA is the
main body responsible for issuing policies and guidelines according to
government requirements. However, people are unaware whether the
information comes from the CEA. Therefore, the respondents considered
the media the primary source of information, especially in rural and
suburban areas.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has developed
interim COVID-19 guidelines for businesses and employers intending to
help prevent workplace contamination from COVID-19. It stated that the
employers should take necessary actions to educate employees about
steps that can be taken to protect themselves and dispose of plastic or
any other waste during COVID-19. Most developed countries practice
specic COVID-19 health and safety guidelines and know how to dispose
of their PPE waste properly. However, the results indicate a lack of in-
formation transfer from employers to employees and workers.
3.2.2. Sensitivity, awareness, and impact of plastic waste
A total of 66.3% of respondents agreed (Strongly agreed and agreed)
that COVID-19 affects the usage of SUP products in households, and
33.7% of respondents disagreed (Strongly disagreed and disagreed) that
COVID-19 affects the usage of SUP products in households. Further-
more, 68.7% of people strongly agreed that they had noticed a change in
the amount of plastic waste in the environment where they live since
COVID-19, whereas 20.6% disagreed. The results also show that most
respondents are aware of the change in plastic waste in the surrounding
environment after COVID-19.
Hypothesis 03. H
0
=There is no signicant association between
the number of members in the house and the
awareness of change in plastic waste in the sur-
rounding environment.
H
1
=There is a signicant association between the number of
members in the house and the awareness of change in plastic waste in
the surrounding environment.
A chi-square test was conducted (
ɑ
=0.05) to identify the association
between the number of members in the house and the awareness of
change in plastic waste in the surrounding environment. A signicant
association was found between the number of household members and
the understanding of change in plastic waste (p =0.002); Ho rejected.
This nding revealed that people are more sensitive to the increase in
plastic waste when households have more members.
Likert-scale questions were used to identify the scale of under-
standing and the opinion on the impact of plastic pollution on the nat-
ural environment, human health, and several key industries. The
primary sectors were tourism, shery, and agriculture [28]. For natural
environments such as waterways and land, urban environment, and
human health, most respondents (more than 50%) considered the
impact of plastic pollution to be extremely high. As for the agricultural,
shery, and tourism industries, 44.3%, 49%, and 39.5% of respondents
considered the impact extremely high.
Respondentsperception of the enforced law on banning polythene
before and after the COVID-19 situation was assessed by the below-listed
statement question. Before COVID-19, most respondents agreed to ban
plastic bags in Sri Lanka. The results were further analysed using the
Wilcoxon Sign-Rank Test (Table 2).
Hypothesis 04. H
0
=There is no signicant difference between
the perception of banning polythene before and
after the COVID-19 pandemic
H
1
=There is a signicant difference between the perception of
banning polythene before and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
A two-tailed t-test has been conducted to compare the mean differ-
ence between the perception of banning polythene before and after the
COVID-19 pandemic. A signicant difference is found between the
perception of banning polythene before and after the COVID-19
pandemic (p =0.000); H
0
was rejected.
The analysis indicates that 129 respondents disagreed with the
polythene banning regulations before COVID-19 than after COVID-19. A
total of 38 respondents disagreed with the polythene banning regula-
tions after COVID-19, and 866 respondents had no opinion change to-
wards the policies according to the COVID-19 situation.
3.3. Perception of enforcing the plastic waste management
Question series was asked to obtain respondents perceptions
regarding whether a plastic collection centre was located in their com-
munity and the mode they would be willing to travel if the authorities
could not collect garbage from the household. The options included
walking, car, motorbike, three-wheeler, and household waste collection.
A total of 47% of the respondents preferred to hand over the waste to
household collectors. The modes of travel selected were to hand over the
waste by walking (18%) and using motorbikes (17%) to the recycle
centre. These results indicate that the respondents wanted a recycling
centre within walking distance or nearby their households. The least
preferred mode was handing the waste over to the centre by a three-
wheeler (5%).
The time duration respondents were willing to commit to travelling
to hand over waste was analysed. Most respondents were willing to
spend approximately 510 minutes of their time travelling to a recycling
centre and handing over the waste (Fig. 5).
4. Conclusions
This study provides an insight into SUP usage and disposal methods
in the pre-and post-COVID-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankas waste
management systems were inadequate to deal with plastic waste before
the pandemic. Thus, the added CPW from households will be a consid-
erable concern for the existing waste management system. The ripple
effect of COVID-19 on plastic pollution will be severe shortly and may
result in the collapse of the current waste management system if not
appropriately addressed. Signicant behavioural changes in disposal
methods due to COVID-19 were identied. The pandemic has decreased
the recycling of plastics and increased household plastic burning to
minimise contamination. However, burning plastic without proper
treatment will impact the environment and the health of the
Table 2
Wilcoxon signed-rank test to identify the difference in ranks between the
perception of banning polythene before and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ranks
N Mean
Rank
Sum of
Ranks
Opinion about regulation after
COVID-19?
Opinion about regulation
before COVID-19?
Negative
Ranks
129
a
87.62 11302.50
Positive
Ranks
38
b
71.72 2725.50
Ties 866
c
Total 1033
a. Opinion about regulation after COVID-19? <Opinion about regulation before
COVID-19?.
b. Opinion about regulation after COVID-19?>Opinion about regulation before
COVID-19?.
c. Opinion about regulation after COVID-19 =Opinion about regulation before
COVID-19?.
R.R. Jayasinghe et al.
Case Studies in Chemical and Environmental Engineering 6 (2022) 100246
6
surrounding organisms. Furthermore, recycling would either not be an
ideal disposal method because the plastic waste may be contaminated
and spread to the local community or even waste recycling personnel.
Thus, the government should consider these disposal methods with the
current capacity of the waste management system without jeopardising
the health of the waste collectors or workers. A signicant association
was found between the disposal method pre-COVID-19 and a persons
educational level. Therefore, we recommend launching awareness pro-
grams targeting the uneducated population using simplied methods to
grasp the ideas quickly. The results show that the information reached to
the rural community is comparatively low. Therefore, authorities should
consider this situation seriously and take necessary actions to educate
the rural community, as the lack of awareness can be a reason for
changes in COVID-19-related plastic disposal. People were found to
prefer handing over plastic waste to collectors even if recycling centres
were introduced into their communities. Since recycling plastics during
COVID-19 is not ideal, implementing mobile incineration units in
recycling or waste collecting centres as a waste management strategy
would be perfect. This practice could reduce CPW from landlls and
provide a more sustainable and eco-friendly solution.
Declaration of competing interest
The authors declare the following nancial interests/personal re-
lationships which may be considered as potential competing interests:
Rohantha Rukshan reports nancial support was provided by University
of Moratuwa Department of Civil Engineering. Prof.Champika Liyanage
reports a relationship with University of Central Lancashire that in-
cludes: funding grants.
Acknowledgements
This work was funded by the Centre for Sustainable Transition
Seedcorn, University of Central Lancashire, UK.
Appendix A. Supplementary data
Supplementary data related to this article can be found at https://
doi.org/10.1016/j.cscee.2022.100246.
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R.R. Jayasinghe et al.
... Plastics are synthetic organic polymers produced for human use since the 20th century (Cera et al., 2020). Discarded polythene and plastics, because of widespread use, are one of the biggest problems encountered in waste management (Jayasinghe et al., 2022). Plastic particles <5 mm come under the category of microplastics (MPs) that can be primary (manufactured microbeads, fibers, pellets) or secondary (larger plastic debris breaking into smaller fragments) in nature. ...
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