COVID pandemic generating dramatic spike in plastic waste in US

"These plastics are going to break down in micro-plastics, which are then consumed by everything on this planet, including us."
SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. (KABC) -- The impact of the pandemic can be measured in tonnage at landfills and the amount of PPE being washed to the ocean.

"In a typical household folks are generating before the pandemic around four pounds per person per day, but now that's increased 25% to 30%. So folks are generating way more than four pounds per person per day," says Tania Ragland Castaneda of Republic Services, one of the largest solid waste collection and processing services in the nation.

Lifestyle changes are spurring the increase. Food containers from take out restaurants are filling dumpsters along with packaging materials from delivered items purchased online.

MORE: With more people home, LA increasing trash collection
EMBED More News Videos

More people staying at home means more trash and the city of Los Angeles is offering additional collection services, with certain rules.


Some trash doesn't make it to trash bins. PPE litter and plastics are entering flood channels, rivers and the ocean, according to the Surfrider Foundation which tracks debris found in cleanups.

"There's been about a 70% increase in the number of items that we're finding per cleanup," says Rachael Coccia who specifically tracks plastic waste for Surfrider.

A study published last month by Science Advances found that the U.S. took the top spot globally as the biggest ocean plastics polluter in 2016.

MORE: LA sees spike in reports of illegal dumping amid pandemic
EMBED More News Videos

L.A. city data shows requests to remove illegally dumped, bulky or electronic waste, as well as household appliances increased nearly 19% in the first seven months of 2020.


"These plastics are going to break down in micro-plastics, which are then consumed by everything on this planet, including us," says Coccia.

To mitigate, consumers are urged to use washable masks and take their own heavy-duty food containers to be filled at restaurants instead of using cartons that are going to be tossed.

Recyclers say that consumers should be especially mindful of disposable PPE.

Masks and stretchable fabrics clog machines. Used items are also loaded with unknown germs and viruses, potentially hazardous to sanitation workers.
Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.