Surging consumption of plastics and packaging during the pandemic has produced mountains of waste. But because fears of Covid-19 have led to work stoppages at recycling facilities, some reusable material has been junked or burned instead.
At the same time, high volumes of personal protective equipment have been misclassified as hazardous, solid waste experts say. That material often isn’t allowed into the normal trash, so a lot of it is dumped in burn pits or as litter.
Experts say a problem in both cases is that an early fear — that the coronavirus could spread easily through surfaces — has created a hard-to-shake stigma around handling perfectly safe trash. Many scientists and government agencies have since found that the fear of surface transmission was wildly overblown. But old habits die hard, especially in countries where waste-disposal guidelines haven’t been updated and officials are still preoccupied with fighting fresh outbreaks.