(MENAFN – Gulf Times) Approximately two meters from the trash can laid a disposable face mask covered in shoe
prints. I was sort of in a predicament. The pre-pandemic me would have picked up any type of
trash and put it in the bin without hesitating. But now I encounter masks dispersed across the
city, and there’s nothing I can do about it as there’s a chance of contaminating myself by this
selfless act. I stared at the mask and walked away. I felt powerless.

The world as we know it has not been the same after Covid-19 hit. What started as a
health crisis promptly evolved into an economic, social, and environmental threat. For starters,
people have increased their use of disposable masks, plastic gloves, and bottles of sanitizers.
Protecting ourselves from the pandemic has caused a new wave of plastic pollution.

to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, researchers estimate that 129 billion face
masks and 65 billion gloves are used every month in order to protect citizens worldwide.
A study by Morder Intelligence claims municipal solid waste management is one of the
most serious challenges faced in Qatar, due to high population growth rate, urbanization,
industrial growth, and economic expansion.

Qatar has one of the highest per capita waste
generation rates worldwide, which is as high as 1.8 kilograms per day. Given that, Qatar
produces more than 2.5 million metric tons of municipal solid waste each year. It is estimated
that this number has only increased due to the amount of waste that is being produced by the
Despite Qatar’s commitment to promoting sustainability for the World Cup in 2022 and
Qatar’s National Visions 2030, the country still has a long way to go as the excessive use of
single-use plastics pose a serious threat to public health and the environment, especially with an
ongoing pandemic.

According to the Red Cross, the world should react with the same urgency to climate
change as to the coronavirus crisis. IFRC Secretary-General Jagan Chapagain said in a virtual
press conference that global warming poses a greater threat than Covid-19, as there is “no
vaccine for climate change.”
There is no doubt that the impact of climate change has reached a new low because of
Covid-19. In the end, we don’t want a public health crisis to add to the plastic pollution crisis.
Neeshad Shafi, a climate change activist and co-founder of the Arab Youth Climate Movement
Qatar (AYCMQA) said that people need to become more conscious towards their actions and
contribution to the environment.

“We are going through a pandemic that’s uncalled for, but people must start to realize
that we cannot keep looking away from these things especially now more than ever,” he said.
Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar is the first registered, independent, nonprofit,
youth-led, grassroots organization in the State of Qatar. With this organization, Shafi aims to
build an ecologically conscious society and to create a network of environmentalists to spread
Currently, the Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar aims to raise awareness through
sustainable campaigns that challenge our assumptions and behaviors in adapting to
environmentally friendly lifestyles. They organize collaborative workshops and focus group
discussion to foster action in the community at the grassroot level. They engage with the youth to
participate in ecological retreats in order to encourage them to become more passionate and
committed to the environment.

“Even with this pandemic people have not learned that our
actions have consequences. We’re investing our time and effort solely to inform people more
about climate change,” he said.
At the moment, Shafi is mainly concerned about the lack of awareness among people
living in Qatar, which is fundamentally the main reason behind climate change. He explains,
“Our goal is to make people aware of their behavior because taking care of yourself is basic
human decency.”
Shafi explains that although first there must be a shift in attitude towards the environment
but there should also be stricter guidelines from the Ministry of Municipality and Environment to
hold citizens accountable. Without legislation, nothing changes. People will continue to litter and
abuse the environment.

According to HE the Minister of Commerce and Industry Ali bin Ahmed al-Kuwari,
“After Covid-19 hit we quickly acted to provide protective measures. There are now three
factories in Qatar that produce medical face masks. They make a total of 12 million masks per
month,” he said. With the rise of plastic production, there must also be stricter regulations by the
Ministry of Municipality and Environment to help eradicate this problem.

During the early months of the pandemic in Qatar, the Ministry of Municipality and
Environment encouraged citizens to safely dispose of their used gloves and masks through
Twitter. However, as the pandemic progresses it’s important to highlight that littering only
worsened and the Ministry of Municipality and Environment marginalized this issue. They have
not addressed this issue except in one tweet that they released in May. This is problematic as the
impact of these actions might be irreversible and it’s important more than ever to act now.

Although the Ministry of Public Health highlighted in their “Guidance On The Use of
Masks for The Public in The Context of Covid- 19” report that after using a mask we must
immediately dispose of it in a closed trash bin. However, people seem to have ignored the
guidelines and continued to improperly dispose of plastic waste. In the end, improper waste
disposal can also interfere with the food supply as plant growth is impaired reducing the amount
of food produced. Waste collectors can get directly exposed to hazardous plastic wastes during
collection, handling and transportation of infectious wastes from sources to storage facilities. To
say the least, this is a problematic issue for our environment and our health for years to come.
As noted in a July 2020 statement by the United Nations Conference on Trade and
Development, “Our streets, beaches and ocean have been hit by a tidal wave of Covid-19 waste
including plastic face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer bottles and food packaging.”

The statement
estimates that 75% of Covid-19 related plastic waste will end up in landfills and the sea due to
plastic waste being disposed of improperly.
While there is a long way to go in regards to changing regulations, Neeshad Shafi hopes
an increased knowledge in the environment will implement a sustainable lifestyle. “The solution
is not so complicated as it may seem, but it’s as simple as being aware and changing your
behavior,” he said.
With the ongoing crisis, many organizations have taken matters into their own hands, like
Doha Environmental Actions Project (DEAP). A team of their volunteers that meet up every
Friday to do beach clean ups. They have done more than 180 beach clean ups and collected over
110,000 kilograms of trash.
Jose Saucedo, the director of DEAP, says that after coronavirus lockdown the beach is
completely wrapped in plastic that consists mainly of masks and gloves.

“There has always been
lots of plastic pollution on the beaches, but now it’s much worse because of the increased use of
single-use masks and gloves,” he said.
Prior to Covid-19, Saucedo organized many beach clean ups with school students. He
believes that the best way to impact the youth is to see upfront without a lecture the
consequences of our actions.

“We are taking people to nature and showing them first-hand the
effect of us just littering. We use beach clean ups as a tool to engage in non-confrontational
conversation that has greater chance of success.”
Excessive use of plastic and littering in the public and open places have resulted in heaps
of garbage in oceans and at beaches. Littering has always been a problem but now with the
pandemic it’s especially important to act now or we could find plastic in our beaches for years to
come. “It takes all of us to make a change.

The government needs to do their part, private sectors
should implement sustainable ways to do their day-to-day work, and a society that is aware of
their actions,” said Saucedo.
The lack of awareness among citizens regarding environmental issues is one of the
underlying causes of climate change. Many undermine the severity of our actions to the
environment, which can have a ripple effect.

“I personally believe to some certain extent I am
aware of how important it is to protect the environment but right now my number one priority is
staying safe,” said Aisha al-Mal. The mindset of staying safe is crucial given the pandemic, but
it’s taking a toll in the environment.
The bottom line is this, we are in the midst of a new reality. The actions that we take
today will dictate our future. Thus, we must act right to protect ourselves and future generations.
“The key question to ask yourself is not what they are doing, but what am I doing about it?”
Saucedo said.


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