The Myth Of An Environmentally Friendly Pandemic

| By Leon Kirschgens & Jacqueline Plaster
In Denmark: The EEA office at night

The pandemic is a double-edged sword from an ecological point of view. Environmental awareness is rising - but so is plastic consumption. Western Europeans are consuming the most.

Last autumn, we already reported on the dramatic consequences of the pandemic on the environment. A particularly impressive figure that underlines the increased plastic consumption: more than 100 billion masks are produced in China alone in one year, a large part of which goes abroad.

Now, the Denmark-based EU environmental agency EEA has also published updated data on plastic consumption. The results are alarming and optimistic at the same time. On the one hand, the figures are stable at a consumption of 61.8 million tonnes of plastic annually. Only the Corona pandemic will increase plastic consumption worldwide through the production of (medical) disposable products. Hopes are growing that consumption will decline as environmental awareness grows after the pandemic. The European Environment Agency expects that more and more people will become sensitive to the value and protection of nature during the pandemic.

Therefore, it is now important to look at the solutions, rather than just highlighting the problem, it said. "The challenges that plastic poses are largely due to the fact that our production and consumption systems are not sustainable," said EEA Director General Hans Bruyninckx. The best way to address this, he said, is to shift towards a fundamentally sustainable and circular plastics economy, where materials are reused and recycled more wisely and effectively. In addition, plastics should be produced from renewable raw materials.

This is especially true for Europe, where plastic consumption is dramatically high compared to the rest of the world. Per person, Western Europeans used about three times as much plastic annually as the global average. A first step is the ban on single-use plastic bags in Germany from 2022. "The plastic bag is the epitome of a waste of resources," said the German environment minister, for example. "Good alternatives are shopping baskets, washable cloth bags for fruit and vegetables and reusable boxes for goods from the fresh produce counter." Similar developments are taking place at the European level and in China. We have also presented the plastic alternatives for everyday life on our blog.