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Professor D. D. Kale: Use of single use plastics in fighting Corona

Petrochemical industry | 01 Apr 2020 10:00 IST | Polymerupdate.com

Corona pandemic has brought the whole world almost to standstill: More than 8, 00,000 affected patients and about 50,000 dead! The isolation of affected and non affected is absolutely essential to arrest the spread of this highly contagious virus.

The medical staffs need to use masks, gloves, aprons to protect themselves while treating large number of patients. The curtains help to isolate patients from one another.

The police need masks while keeping vigilance on the people disobeying the lockdown process. The servicemen have to travel from their homes to workplace and back to home every day need masks and hand gloves. The vendors selling essential items such grocery, vegetables, mil etc also have to protect themselves during the working hours.
All of them need disposable items such as masks, gloves, aprons etc.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that some 89 million medical masks, 76 million examination gloves and 1.6 million goggles will be needed for the COVID-19 response every month while the pandemic lasts. WHO has supplied around half a million sets of protective equipment to 47 affected countries, but these supplies are rapidly running out.

It must be noted here that these goods are made from plastics and these being disposable, are single use plastics.

The people who do not have homes and are staying in public places need to be served with food and water. These are carried mostly in plastic plates or containers and bottles.

The hygiene is well served by plastics due to the inherent properties that plastics have. Excellent barrier properties, low cost, light weight, and durability have enabled the widespread use of plastics in the field of healthcare. Its flexibility and resistance to corrosion have revolutionised the prosthetics industry replacing conventional materials.

It took one week after the first U.S. case of Covid-19 with no overseas connection for Starbucks Corp. to ban customers from bringing in reusable coffee mugs. Concerns around food hygiene due to Covid-19 could increase plastic packaging intensity, undoing some of the early progress made by companies.

The alternate to the plastic for gloves, masks or aprons could be cotton. These are reusable after washing. One should note that after washing and sterilizing thoroughly the mask used by one person will be used by another. Besides, the manpower, time and energy needed to wash may not be easily available. This puts question on the alternatives. All these are single use plastics. The general policy to ban all single use plastics need to rethink on this matter.

These single use items which are entirely disposable have to be treated very safely along the guidelines laid down by International standards. These can be either incinerated producing only carbon. Alternately, these can be irradiated using appropriate radiations so as to kill the entire living organism and degrade the virus totally.

The biodegradable or oxo-biodegradable plastic should not be used to make these gadgets at all. The biodegradable plastics need separate composting facility, which does not exist in most countries. The oxo-biodegradable plastic may produce micro plastics and the waste plastic material may enter the soil and water sources which will contaminate these resources vey badly. It is too premature to introduce these materials in medical healthcare sector.

The global plastics industry should stand ready to assist authorities and public health advocates in making sure our materials and products are on the frontline of combating the spread of the corona virus and also the waste disposal is proper.

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