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The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically increased reliance on single-use plastics, resulting in a plastics pollution crisis faced by many countries around the world. A French environmental nongovernmental organization recently released a video showing masks and gloves littering the seabed of the Mediterranean Sea. Discarded masks and gloves in city streets have been reported in Canada and France, with many concerned that the litter will only worsen as countries reopen (BBC, Bloomberg).

In China, discarded packaging from a booming delivery economy poses another waste problem. Package deliveries increased even after the easing of lockdown orders—up 27% in April compared to last year. The Chinese government plans to initiate a mandatory waste-sorting system in 46 cities by the end of this year, based on a pilot program launched in Shanghai in 2019 (Bloomberg). In Mexico, officials have discovered large-scale illegal dumping of medical waste and discarded coffins due to the surge in infectious waste (AP News). Organizers in Chile fear that as the country’s drop-off recycling centers close amid lockdown orders, residents will stop recycling. According to the World Bank, less than 1% of Chile’s waste is recycled or composted (Reuters).

Plastics’ new role in coronavirus prevention has also delayed or halted single-use plastic bans in places like California, New York, and Thailand (Reuters, New York Times). The future of Canada’s single-use plastic ban, intended to take effect in 2021, remains uncertain (Bloomberg).