Covid-19 has Caused Another Pandemic

It’s called the “Plastic Pandemic”

It’s been over a year since Covid-19 has hit here in the U.S. and we all can agree that it has been exhausting. Whether you’re an anti-masker or a masker, it’s been a rough journey for all of us, not being able to go out, spending time with family and friends, or even just living our daily lives. If we ever want to leave our houses, we have to put masks on (at least in most states). The demand for face shields, masks, and gloves has increased drastically ever since this pandemic has started, but there’s another consequence that is often ignored — deliveries and take-aways.

Many restaurant owners claim that they have intentionally avoided working with food-delivery apps prior to Covid-19 due to the costs to their businesses seemed to be too high. However, when they had to shut down due to whether it be the state restrictions or the decrease in customers, food-delivery apps seemed to be the only viable option. Delivery apps have become crucial for business owners nowadays, and some even live off of only deliveries since not as many customers choose to go out and eat. The four well-known food-delivery apps saw a giant revenue rise in the last year because of this pandemic, which also means a rise in the number of deliveries made.

Here you can see how the delivery apps have grown dramatically because of the pandemic (Source: SEC Filings).

In other words, there’s more paper and plastic waste being produced. Think about it. When we go out and eat in restaurants, food is served on a plate, and drinks are served on glasses. Silverware is put in dishwashers to be cleansed and so are the plates. The only waste that possibly comes out from eating out is food waste. However, the case is different for deliveries. There are multiple silverware cases inside the delivered bags, as well as the countless piles of napkins. Styrofoam plates, and plastic containers, and if you’re lucky you’ll get a recyclable paper container.

Several containers come along in a single food delivery order. Jenny Yoon
Jenny Yoon

It’s not only the food deliveries. Under the stay-at-home orders, millions of Americans started ordering much-needed essentials like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, or even just groceries, (and sweatsuits). Amazon saw a 28% increase in their stock since last year because of the numerous orders from customers staying at home most of the time. They have hired more than 100,000 new warehouse and delivery workers since the pandemic and have never had a bigger rise in profit until Covid-19 hit.

Source: FactSet

I’m not saying this is bad news. However, in terms of paper, plastic, and styrofoam waste? Yes. Digital sales ballooned 71% in the second quarter of 2020 and 55% in the third, according to Salesforce, creating a wave of packaging that is “ultimately destined for landfill, incinerator, or the larger environment”.

In no way am I asking you to stop eating in and ordering essentials online. I’m not telling you to pretend like everything’s normal and eat out and go to grocery stores whenever you can. However, it is our responsibility to stay educated and notice the changes that are taking place. We can’t ignore the damage that is done to our planet, just excusing the pandemic. We can start by making small changes like asking for no silverware or napkins when ordering deliveries or making sure to recycle the cardboard boxes from Amazon. Reuse the plastic take-out containers or maybe even learn about composting your coffee grinds!

Passionate for environmental and chemical engineering. Writer at The Innovation, Climate Conscious, and Age of Awareness. Love recycling and composting!