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Increase of Plastic Waste Blamed on COVID-19 Concerns

Posted on: July 28th, 2020


In a recent post entitled Packaging Waste Increases as Online Shopping Hits Unprecedented Growth, HC discussed how quarantine restrictions have forced much of society to do their shopping online. This undoubtedly leads to an increase of plastic waste.

According to Adobe Analytics, U.S. online sales for June 2020 totaled $73.2 billion (up 76% when compared to June 2019, which rang in at $41.5 billion – still an impressive number).

This increase of plastic waste, due to record online shopping, is what now concerns environmental groups. As does the resurgence of single-use plastics, most commonly in the form of plastic bags.

Many U.S. cities and states have dedicated a great deal of time and energy figuring out ways to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics such as styrofoam, plastic bags, and straws.

Progress was in fact being made as “bring your own” grocery bags, mugs and other food ware items had become normalcy for many consumers. New Jersey was even in the process of adopting a bill that would’ve made it the first state to ban all single-use bags.

But much of these sustainability efforts came to a halt with the onset of COVID-19.

A few months after the pandemic hit U.S. shores, plastic bags made a quick return to grocery and other retail stores – even in states which had previously ban their use. Suddenly, an increase of plastic waste was proliferating much of society, propagated by homes from coast to coast.

In a Smithsonian Magazine article entitled, COVID-19 Has Resurrected Single-Use Plastics—Are They Back to Stay, authors Jessica Heiges and Kate O’Neill write, “COVID-19 is changing how the U.S. disposes of waste. It is also threatening hard-fought victories that restricted or eliminated single-use disposable items, especially plastic, in cities and towns across the nation.”

Plastic waste re-enters the market

By late June, many cities and states had temporarily suspended single-use policies across the U.S. – mainly the plastic bag ban.

The perception during this pandemic has been that plastic bags can be more easily disposed of, thus taking with them any germs which may be living on their surface. While many dispute the possibility of contracting COVID-19 from plastic bags, it’s a convenience which makes many feel better as we all strive to stay as healthy as possible during these unprecedented times.

However, it comes at a price to the environment.

Heiges and O’Neill go on to say, “For the longer term, it is unclear how COVID-19 disruptions will affect consumerism and waste disposal practices. In our view, one important takeaway is that while mindful consumers are part of the solution to the plastics crisis, individuals cannot and should not carry the full burden.”

Society must continue to push for sustainability practices and packaging from the companies they support in an effort to combat this increase in plastic waste  – even during the pandemic. If we lose sight of the importance of such environmentally altering policies now, it will be increasingly difficult to reintroduce them later.

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