he problem of global-scale plastic pollution has been escalated by single-use solutions due to the pandemics. How should we go about solving this challenge?
New York, 1907. That’s when Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite—the first fully synthetic plastic. Fast forward over a hundred years and you end up with an incredible amount of waste that is not properly reused or recycled.
Every year, our civilization generates about 300 million tons of plastic. It makes for good packaging for virtually any item—it’s durable and easy to mold. On the other hand, it’s also very slow to degrade, and as such piles up as waste. Unfortunately, not only on landfills, but also in the environments that adversely affect wildlife and wildlife habitat.
In February 2015, a study by a working group of scientists from UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) has been published in a journal Science. The results have been eye-opening— a staggering eight million metric tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year.It has also been estimated that this cumulative input would grow 20 times by 2025.
As one would assume, pollution has its consequences. The plastic is consumed by whales, sea lions, birds, and even organisms such as zooplankton. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration of the US, more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die annually due to plastic debris.
And this is just the beginning.
Hand Sanitizers and Disposable Packaging
Even before the pandemics, hand sanitization had been on the uptrend due to a rise in hand hygiene awareness. The COVID-19 crisis resulted in explosion of this trend; and short-term shortages when the demand hit its peak.
“Plastic pollution was already one of the greatest threats to our planet before the coronavirus outbreak,” said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, the director of international trade for United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. As Ms. Pamela points out, the problem is also connected with disposable face masks as the market went from an estimated $800 million in 2019 to $166 billion in 2020. Products—wrapped in plethora of packaging—delivered to homes on a daily basis is also a significant issue as pointed out on UNCTAD’s take on the matter.
Hand sanitizers—or, rather, our shopping decisions regarding the hand sanitizers—are also an important factor here. Single-use bottles in all sizes are simply convenient to use, and the most popular seem to be those with pocket-size packaging. Made of plastic, obviously.
The scale of hand sanitizer production and packaging is shown best by the data from packaging companies. UK-based WePack says that 70-80% of their orders are for hand sanitizers. Fortunately, many companies use recyclable PET plastic but it’s not the case for every company.
With such rapid growth, it’s more than likely that the global hand sanitizer market contributes to the plastic pollution overall.
The Solutions for Sustainable Hand Sanitizers
Our number one solution—but not the only one—is to use reusable, and recyclable, PET plastic. If a single-use plastic would be used only for larger containers, then pouring your daily or weekly dose into such reusable bottles would be significantly more friendly for the environment.
An alternative approach to the whole idea of buying a package of hand sanitizer would be to buy… refills. We could use automatic dispensers in public places that—apart from having the option to doze a portion required for one sanitization—could also allow any user to refill an entire bottle. This way, people would be asked to pay just for the sanitizing gel, and not for the packaging. After all, it’s what we all want—the sanitizer. Not the packaging.
The approach towards hand sanitizer distribution should be zero-waste. This way, even if plastic bottles seem to be the most reasonable packaging, they can be refilled and reused, so they don't contribute to the problem of plastic waste with every bottle that hits the market.
This is the approach that SANI AI-based dispensers follows. The employees present in the office can maintain their hand hygiene easily using the device and those who wish to have a portion of the gel for use out of the office can simply place their refill bottle and the machine will take care of the rest.
The problems that we are facing right now are complex, but we cannot forget about one when solving the other. The solutions for fighting COVID-19 pandemics and doing so sustainably are out there–you just need to care enough to find them.