Jackie Thompson

The current health crisis has caused big changes in the way waste is generated and will require new waste management strategies when it is over. Big changes have occurred in the composition and quantity of waste, and governments will have to respond accordingly to accommodate them. Recent research by H Bhakta Sharma and colleagues focuses on the challenges and opportunities for innovation provided by the crisis. The scientists argue that specific measures – including the temporary reduction of single-use plastic during the crisis – could be of aid in the post-COVID world.

Changes To Waste Composition Brought About By COVID-19

Bhakta Sharma and colleagues report that although global lockdowns have done plenty to reduce air and water pollution, the same cannot be said when it comes to solid waste. The pandemic has generated large volumes of dangerous waste, including infected masks and other protective equipment. Even when the pandemic is no longer an immediate threat, this type of waste needs to be handled and disposed of effectively, and future pandemics will require previous strategizing. Policymakers will need to create effective ways to identify, collect, separate, store, transport, treat, and dispose of these items.

Waste Management And Business Survival

The new world order will be one in which sustainability and the adoption of environmentally friendly practices will be necessary for survival. Recent Pew Research shows that 75% of U.S. adults state that they are concerned about helping the environment as they go about their daily lives. Businesses that survive the pandemic are those that align themselves with those values in addition to making necessary financial and staffing changes.

Creating a strong online presence will be more important than ever for businesses post-COVID, and those that can use social media and websites to demonstrate their commitment to the environment will have a leading edge. One important way to do so is to rely on sustainable (recycled and recyclable materials) as opposed to single-use plastics. During COVID-19, many restaurants have switched to home delivery or takeaway models. Unfortunately, this has led to a big increase in the generation of common packaging plastic waste.

Broken Supply Chains And Stockpiling

COVID-19 has also generated more food waste, owing to broken supply chains (which have led to food dumping) and panic buying/hoarding. The New York Times recently reported that due to the closure of many food businesses, many of the nation’s largest farms have destroyed or dumped millions of pounds of fresh goods. Hence, innovative solutions for future pandemics need to be considered. These can range from the use of food delivery drones to continued activity of small scale industries and cooperatives, even during times of crisis. Bhakta Sharma and colleagues also recommend that households become more self-sustained, engaging in practices like home gardening and local community-based farming.

Key Policy Changes

Just a few changes recommended include improved disaster management planning for future pandemics, better training for those who handle risky waste, and the adoption of innovative technology-based solutions such as pyrolysis, gasification, and the like. There should also be tighter regulations and limits on plastic packaging. Food waste, meanwhile, can be reduced by encouraging more local production and consumption. Finally, people should be educated about the concept of a circular economy. This differs from the ‘take-make-waste’ model, in that it is regenerative in nature and aims to gradually separate growth from the consumption of finite resources.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted current problems in waste management systems. The proliferation of high-risk materials such as masks, plastics and food wastes reveals the necessity of new strategies for the future. These include the creation of smaller supply chains via household and community food generation, the creation of strict policies for the disposal of high-risk items, and stricter policy regarding the production of plastic packaging. Businesses can do their best to back government regulations by relying on sustainable packaging and local suppliers.

Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash