It is day 10 of my mandatory quarantine after arriving in the Philippines. I am well rested after the long agonizing and emotional journey home. I am quarantined in a hotel accredited by our local government’s Department of Health for returning Filipinos. Since it is a paid quarantine facility, food, and other basic necessities is well provided for. However, after ten days, I noticed something. Due to specific health protocols, foods are packed and served in a plastic disposable food container along with the disposable spoon and fork and small bottled water.
I began to wonder, how they manage the disposal of these disposable food containers, considering that the hotel is fully booked and occupied since I arrived or even way back the time the Philippines opened its borders for returning Filipinos and Overseas Filipino Workers. Imagine the number of accumulated plastics?
It is true then that the pandemic did not only change the way we live our lives and the way we treat people, but it has definitely affected our environment and has worsened the ocean plastic pollution problem. There is a drastic increase in the use of disposable masks and disposable gloves, along with the use of small easy to carry plastic bottles of hand sanitizers. This is threatening the health of our seas and its living organisms.
Before the pandemic or pre – COVID 19, there is a reported eight million metric tons of plastic waste dumped in the ocean every year. This equates to one garbage truck’s worth of plastic being dumped into our oceans every minute. The total weight is the equivalent of 90 aircraft carriers. That’s huge. Massive.
This is tragic for many reasons. Fish, whales, turtles, and seabirds and many other animals are eating the plastic and are dying. There are many existing studies in the process of exploring the relationship between human health problems and eating or consuming fish that contain microplastics (bottles and other single-use items that have broken down). Oceans around the world have been ravaged by plastic waste. Again, this was pre – COVID 19.
In the hindsight, the global pandemic might be the kind of silver lining environmentalist who has long been waiting. With social distancing keeping people off the road and out of the skies, the quality of air that we breathe has said to have improved. Carbon emissions have fallen by a very significant amount. The shuttering down of factories in some major cities around the world has lowered air pollutions. Suppose good news, right?
On the contrary though, the same cannot be said for our oceans and its inhabitants. Our oceans have been hit hard in the past months, with the massive use of face masks, gloves, face shields, and miniature hand sanitizer bottles. I even read somewhere that if we stitch together all of the masks manufactured already, we would probably cover the entire landmass of Switzerland.
And we are just talking about the use of these so-called PPEs. But the story of the rapid increase in the use of single-use plastic resulting from COVID – 19 is even more complicated.
So before things even get more complicated, we must as well act sooner and faster.
What can we possibly do?
- Hotels and other restaurants should serve their foods on a biodegradable container, over the plastic containers.
- We should buy hand sanitizers or alcohol in big containers and just have one small container for a refill in case we need to leave our homes.
- For non – medical practitioners, use the washable cloth masks instead of the disposable ones and refrain from using disposable gloves if not really necessary, otherwise practice regular hand washing and use hand sanitizers to disinfect.
- Proper waste disposal is also a must for gloves and face masks.
I am not an expert environmentalist but I believe these are practical tips we can all follow. In as much as we want to protect ourselves from the COVID 19 virus, we should also not forget to protect our oceans and its living organisms. After all, they are part of our ecosystem and without them how do we live our lives again after the pandemic?
for kate’s Friday -fun: