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The COVID-19 pandemic is unleashing a tidal wave of plastic waste

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

SINGAPORE —  When he stepped onto a beach on Hong Kong’s uninhabited Soko Islands, Gary Stokes was surprised to find — amid the discarded water bottles, shopping bags and usual piles of plastic waste — a new type of garbage washing ashore.

Masks. Dozens and dozens of disposable masks.

On that overcast morning in late February, just weeks after Hong Kong had recorded its first coronavirus case, the environmental activist collected more than 70 discarded masks from a beach slightly longer than a football field. In the months since, Stokes has found many more washed up onto other islands far from central Hong Kong.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a dramatic increase in the use of plastic, the main component in masks, gloves, hand sanitizer bottles, protective medical suits, test kits, takeout containers, delivery packaging and other items central to our new, locked-down, hyper-hygienic way of life.

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