Governments should push for new incentives and policies in relation to waste management, seeing how current strategies have proved woefully incapable of dealing with the increasing amount of disposable PPE. Better recollection and separation logistics, as well as novel chemical and mechanical processes to recycle plastics, are essential to achieve these goals. As for industries, they should strive to adopt the latest technological breakthroughs in terms of sustainability. To truly close the plastic loop, they will need strategies for the long-term upcycling of plastic waste using renewable energy, so as to also be in line with the current agenda to decelerate climate change. Finally, in the consumer side, it's important that more people adopt a 'refuse–reduce–reuse' ideology and opt for plastic-free choices when possible.
More awareness of the problems caused by plastics will hopefully kickstart these changes. To name but a few, plastic pollution causes sickness and death of marine and freshwater lifeforms, loss of biodiversity, air and soil pollution in the form of micro- and nanoplastics, and human health issues that we are just beginning to comprehend. In addition to increased awareness, we will need research communities to further develop and refine promising technologies to combat plastic waste. One important candidate is biodegradable plastics, which still warrant a comprehensive footprint assessment to check if they will be applicable at the industrial scale. Moreover, efficient catalytic conversion schemes for plastic upcycling should also take their place in the spotlight as key enabling technologies to turn waste into value-added products.
Overall, even though our situation looks dire today, we are still in time to reverse it. "Closing the loop on plastic might not be a reality just yet. However, heightened consumer awareness, increased industry innovation, expanded government investment, and continued research can mitigate plastic burdens on the environment and develop a society guided by a circular economy," says Prof. Ok. Let's hope that, in spite of all the problems the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, it brings us together in the fight for a more sustainable future.