As coronavirus cases spread around the world earlier this year, Binish Desai found himself increasingly nervous. It wasn’t only the pandemic that worried him, but the waste it was generating. Masks and protective gear were being used a single time and then discarded by the tons, eventually destined for landfills or bodies of water.

“I have eco-anxiety,” said Desai, a 27-year-old environmental activist and innovator in western India. When he sees waste, he said, he automatically begins thinking about ways to use it. By September, he had come up with a solution: Take the used protective gear and mold it into bricks for buildings. He already has made more than 40,000 such bricks for projects including homes and factories, and is gearing up to produce 15,000 a day.

Desai’s recycling effort is one small step toward addressing a global environmental hazard. To fight the virus, countries around the world have increased production of personal protective equipment, or PPE. Such gear is often made of polypropylene plastic, a synthetic resin that can take hundreds of years to degrade. Exactly how much waste the pandemic is creating worldwide is not clear, but experts say it is significant. One study estimated — on the basis of a projection for Italy — that the world could be using up to 129 billion face masks a month.

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Author: Taniya Dutta, The Washington Post, The Seattle-Times
Image: Jae C. Hong, The Associated Press