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The COVID-19 pandemic has created another kind of scourge: Plastic pollution. The Economist warned on June 23, 2020 that the planet is awash with pandemic plastic, with the consumption of single-use plastic in the US zooming rom 250% to 300% since the pandemic zapped the country, according to Antonis Mavropoulos of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), which represents recycling bodies in 102 countries.

“Much of that increase is down to demand for products designed to keep COVID-19 at bay, including masks, visors and gloves. According to a forecast from Grand View Research, the global disposable-mask market will grow from an estimated $800 million in 2019 to $166 billion this year,” The Economist stressed. “In March, as parts of America and Europe shut up shop, some 2.5 billion customers are reckoned to have visited Amazon’s website, a 65% increase on last year. In China, more than 25% of physical goods were bought online during the first quarter of the year, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a think-tank in Washington, D.C. First-quarter sales at Uber Eats, one of America’s biggest restaurant-delivery apps, for example, rose by 54% year on year.”

If the public’s increasing appetite for single-use plastic worries environmentalists, then so too does its diminishing inclination to recycle materials that can be reused. In Athens, for example, there has been a 150% increase in the amount of plastic found in the general-waste stream, says Mavropoulos. Anecdotal evidence from ISWA members suggests this is a worldwide trend.

An unwillingness to recycle might be explained by people’s nervousness about venturing out to put waste in recycling bins but another reason is that cheap oil has made it less costly to produce plastic, an there is little incentive to recycle it.