The Plastic Pandemic

An overflowing trash can located outside Rouzer Hall (Shannon Musolf / McDaniel Free Press).

Amidst a time of uncertainty and fear due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, environmental awareness has taken a back seat. While focusing on our human contact, possible symptoms, and social distancing, we have forgotten another large issue: single-use plastics and pollution.

Since everyone’s health and safety has taken even more priority in the past eight months, humans have had to adjust and take more precautions than ever. Latex gloves, disposable masks, plastic take out boxes, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as plastic gowns, and single-use plastic silverware are all a much larger part of our every day lives now.

According to IPS News, “the United States is projected to generate an entire year’s worth of medical waste in just two months.”

Aside from some of the obvious non-environmentally friendly aspects of the pandemic, there are more things going on that you may not know about. Due to social distancing, many facilities are not able to operate at full capacity which therefore slows down production. This means that places like waste management facilities are unable to take in and process the amount of waste being sent in, which is even more than normal because of the abundance of single-use plastics being used.

These plastics are ending up in oceans, fields, and forests. Other facilities or companies that would normally monitor illegal activity are also unable to do so. Deforestation, illegal mining, and poaching are all able to fly under the radar more than ever in places such as Africa, the Galapagos, and the Amazon Rainforest.

Along with this, COVID-19 has taken priority over environmental policy action, so it is up to us as humans to take personal responsibility and action.

Now, you may be wondering what you can do as a student at McDaniel College to help this cause. Plastic can take up to 500 years to biodegrade as it is petroleum based, so any instance where you can replace a single-use plastic is a great place to start. First and foremost, you can invest in a few reusable items that you can implement in your life. Single-use plastic face masks are made of polypropylene, a plastic that is particularly hard to biodegrade. Amazon, Old Navy, Target, and Walmart are all easily accessible places that you can buy cheap, reusable masks that can be washed and worn over and over.

Another easy replacement would be to bring a reusable shopping bag with a set of reusable plastic or metal utensils when you go to eat at Glar. You can wipe them off when you are done and then take them back to your room and clean them off to use them again. Although many of the water fountains on campus have been closed off for sanitation and safety reasons, try taking your reusable water bottle to one of the water bottle refill stations located in Gill Center, outside of Glar, or Hoover library to reduce the use of plastic water bottles.

These tasks may seem small, but with the help of everyone on campus, we can do our part to reduce the use of single-use plastics and help keep the environment clean, all while still prioritizing our health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic!