Coronavirus to set back plastic waste and pollution reduction efforts 1-3 years - analyst

Author: Joseph Chang


NEW YORK (ICIS)--The coronavirus pandemic will roll back global efforts to reduce plastic waste by 1-3 years, an analyst said on Monday.

“We believe that the pandemic has set back efforts to reduce plastic waste and pollution by 1-3 years… Bans and taxes have been rolled back, physical and chemical recycling activity has decreased, and virus concerns may have reduced consumers’ desire to minimise consumption of single-use plastics,” said Laurence Alexander, analyst at Jefferies, in a research note.

While the overall volume of plastics waste is down because of demand destruction across large swaths of the global economy, demand for single-use plastics is flat to marginally up, he added.

Single-use plastics demand is up from medical applications, food delivery, food retail, and overall FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), but largely offset by weakness in food service, food wholesale, industrial/product care packaging, beverages, and certain categories of personal care, the analyst noted.

And the waste services sector, including recycling, has been hit hard by the pandemic.

“Companies have been hit by a myriad factors including staffing limitations, forced closures, budget cuts, unfavourable regulations, low oil prices, and lower demand. This has led to a surge in the landfilling and burning of recyclables, further amplifying the negative effects of single-use plastic,” said Alexander.

Meanwhile, plastics regulation has suffered a setback, partially offset by the EU’s new packaging waste tax, he noted.

“Mass rollbacks and delays of legislation targeting plastic bags and other single-use plastic items mean that the plastic regulatory landscape has taken a step back due to Covid-19,” said Alexander.

“However, the new plastic packaging waste tax passed by the EU is an important step for the world’s hopes of transitioning to a more circular economy,” he added.

Another challenge posed by the pandemic is the proper disposal of the huge amounts of PPE (personal protective equipment).

“The unprecedented nature of the pandemic has led to deficiencies in standard operating procedures, insufficient resources, and personnel training on how to dispose of PPE, which is unrecyclable,” said Alexander.

“This has been particularly problematic for developing countries, where sufficient waste management infrastructure may not be available. There have been widespread reports of the mixing of clinical and general waste, as well as the illegal dumping of large amounts of used PPE in open spaces,” he added.

Focus article by Joseph Chang

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