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The amount of pandemic related trash we're producing is raising new concerns

Face masks littering a rocky beach [shutterstock]
Face masks littering a rocky beach [shutterstocl]

Two years ago, as we began to deal with the novel coronavirus, there appeared to be one slight silver lining to the pandemic.

Lockdowns, social distancing, and our fear of travel all led to fewer carbon emissions, and fewer resources being consumed around the globe.

One example was automobile use in the United States. It declined by 40% in the first half of 2020. Industrial emissions in China, which is the world's biggest source of carbon, were down 18% during that same time.

Environmentalists praised the effects this had on air quality across the globe; suddenly the smog-filled skies of India were no more.

Wildlife advocates were also joyous at how the global slow down benefitted conservation efforts.

But the good news on the environmental front was short-lived.

Factories resumed operations, and people resumed travelling. Since that initial lockdown, there's been a new environmental wrinkle including the discarding of protective gear that have become instrumental in protecting us against COVID-19.

Dirty masks and discarded latex gloves now litter sidewalks, float in waterways, and pepper landfills.

A study US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health found that in the second half of 2020 medical waste in Spain was up 350%, in China that number is 370%.

This is not to mention all the plastic and Styrofoam 'to-go' containers being used by your favorite restaurants, as so many people switched to take out.

Today on the program, we talk about how the pandemic has created a new environmental problem regarding waste.

In the conversation is the head of The Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District, and researchers from The Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory, as well as Kent State, who have both been studying the issue.

Later in the hour, an effort to invoke the suspension of utility and water shutoffs for marginalized households, including those with infants, or pregnant women. An issue that’s been ongoing in the city of Cleveland during the pandemic.

- Elizabeth Biggins-Ramer, Executive Director, The Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District

- Anne Jefferson, Associate Professor and Assistant Chair of Geology, Kent State University

- Jill Bartolotta, Extension Educator, Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory

- Crystal Davis, VP, Policy and Strategic Engagement, Alliance for the Great Lakes

- Conor Morris, Report for America Corps Member, Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative

Drew Maziasz is a coordinating producer for the "Sound of Ideas" and also serves as the show’s technical producer.