Single-Use Plastics and the Pandemic

December 15, 2020 11:00 am — 12:30 pm
Webinar Only

An ELI Public Webinar

The balance between sustainability and human safety is being tested on a global scale by the coronavirus pandemic. After more than six years of momentum for banning a variety of single-use plastic types, the pandemic has brought many of these achievements to a standstill.

The use of medical items such as PPE, disposable face shields, masks, and gloves, as well as general packaging–especially plastic wraps, plastic bags, and food packaging–are merely a few leading examples of the surge of single-use plastic usage at the center of the pandemic. Recycling equipment is sometimes not advanced enough to identify, separate, or break down single-use plastics because they are typically made from multiple types of plastic and/or mixed with other non-recyclable materials.

While several states and municipalities have laws designed to curb consumer use of single-use plastics, at least five states – California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York – have lifted (some temporarily, some long-term) these regulations due to pandemic-related concerns. During the pandemic, waste from predominantly single-use plastic items has surged and is expected to increase 30% from pre-pandemic levels. This is a significant cause for concern in many realms. One startling aspect comes from pre-pandemic research that suggested annual ocean plastic pollution could triple by 2040, and experts now worry these rollbacks could exacerbate this crisis.

What are the best policies and practices to mitigate single-use plastic pollution during a pandemic? What are the opportunities and challenges to increasing the recycling of single-use plastics? What are the lasting impacts of this pandemic on efforts to limit the use of single-use plastics? Join ELI and leading experts to explore the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic on overconsumption of single-use plastics.

Martin Bourque, Executive Director, Ecology Center, Moderator
Nicole E. Bothwell, Associate, Squire Patton Boggs LLP
Nick Mallos, Senior Director, Trash Free Seas Program, Ocean Conservancy
Rachel A. Meidl, Fellow, Energy and Environment, Baker Institute for Public Policy, Rice University

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