The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased demand for single-use plastics that intensifies pressure on an already out-ofcontrol global plastic waste problem. While it is suspected to be large, the magnitude and fate of this pandemic-associated mismanaged plastic waste are unknown. Here, we use our MITgcm ocean plastic model to quantify the impact of the pandemic on plastic discharge. We show that 8.4 6 1.4 million tons of pandemic-associated plastic waste have been generated from 193 countries as of August 23, 2021, with 25.9 6 3.8 thousand tons released into the global ocean representing 1.5 6 0.2% of the global total riverine plastic discharge. The model projects that the spatial distribution of the discharge changes rapidly in the global ocean within 3 y, with a significant portion of plastic debris landing on the beach and seabed later and a circumpolar plastic accumulation zone will be formed in the Arctic. We find hospital waste represents the bulk of the global discharge (73%), and most of the global discharge is from Asia (72%), which calls for better management of medical waste in developing countries.
Peng, Y., Wu, P., Schartup, A. T., & Zhang, Y. (2021). Plastic waste release caused by COVID-19 and its fate in the global ocean. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118(47). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2111530118