Increased plastic pollution due to COVID-19 pandemic: Challenges and recommendations

Chem Eng J. 2021 Feb 1:405:126683. doi: 10.1016/j.cej.2020.126683. Epub 2020 Aug 17.


Plastics have become a severe transboundary threat to natural ecosystems and human health, with studies predicting a twofold increase in the number of plastic debris (including micro and nano-sized plastics) by 2030. However, such predictions will likely be aggravated by the excessive use and consumption of single-use plastics (including personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves) due to COVID-19 pandemic. This review aimed to provide a comprehensive overview on the effects of COVID-19 on macroplastic pollution and its potential implications on the environment and human health considering short- and long-term scenarios; addressing the main challenges and discussing potential strategies to overcome them. It emphasises that future measures, involved in an emergent health crisis or not, should reflect a balance between public health and environmental safety as they are both undoubtedly connected. Although the use and consumption of plastics significantly improved our quality of life, it is crucial to shift towards sustainable alternatives, such as bio-based plastics. Plastics should remain in the top of the political agenda in Europe and across the world, not only to minimise plastic leakage and pollution, but to promote sustainable growth and to stimulate both green and blue- economies. Discussions on this topic, particularly considering the excessive use of plastic, should start soon with the involvement of the scientific community, plastic producers and politicians in order to be prepared for the near future.

Keywords: COVID-19; Macroplastic; Personal protective equipment (PPE); SARS-CoV-2; Single-use-plastics; Waste.

Publication types

  • Review