Minimising the present and future plastic waste, energy and environmental footprints related to COVID-19

Elsevier, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 127, July 2020
Klemes J.J., Fan Y.V., Tan R.R., Jiang P.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had growing environmental consequences related to plastic use and follow-up waste, but more urgent health issues have far overshadowed the potential impacts. This paper gives a prospective outlook on how the disruption caused by COVID-19 can act as a catalyst for short-term and long-term changes in plastic waste management practices throughout the world. The impact of the pandemic and epidemic following through the life cycles of various plastic products, particularly those needed for personal protection and healthcare, is assessed. The energy and environmental footprints of these product systems have increased rapidly in response to the surge in the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide, while critical hazardous waste management issues are emerging due to the need to ensure destruction of residual pathogens in household and medical waste. The concept of Plastic Waste Footprint (PWF) is proposed to capture the environmental footprint of a plastic product throughout its entire life cycle. Emerging challenges in waste management during and after the pandemic are discussed from the perspective of novel research and environmental policies. The sudden shift in waste composition and quantity highlights the need for a dynamically reponsive waste management system. Six future research directions are suggested to mitigate the potential impacts of the pandemic on waste management systems.