The disposable face mask has become the poster child for Covid-19-related waste since the start of the pandemic, showing up on beaches and in waterways all over the world. Hong Kong is no exception. Just a few weeks after the first cases hit the city, face masks started appearing in the ocean and washing onto beaches, says Gary Stokes of Hong Kong-based NGO OceansAsia.

“You can go down into the main bit of Hong Kong Harbor, be waiting for a ferry or looking over the promenade, and you’ll just see them floating past,” Stokes told Mongabay in a phone interview. “Then you can go all the way out to … the Soko Islands, which is remote and … away from everybody, and you still find them there.”

But discarded face masks are only the most noticeable form of pandemic-related plastic waste impacting the marine environment. A new study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that pandemic-related hospital waste — plastic sheets, bottles, syringes and gloves — posed a far greater threat than the 1.56 billion face masks estimated to have already made their way into the oceans.

The study used modeling to find that 193 countries produced more than eight million metric tons of pandemic-related plastic waste since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak. About 26,000 tons of this waste is said to have already been released into the ocean, where it can threaten marine wildlife through entanglement and ingestion.

The vast majority of this plastic waste, about 87 per cent, is produced by hospitals, while only seven per cent comes from personal protective equipment (PPE), according to the study. The paper also looked at disposable plastic used in online shopping and Covid-19 test kits, but these are said to only account for 4.7 per cent and 0.3 per cent respectively.

Read the full article about hospital plastic waste pollution by Elizabeth Claire Alberts at Eco-Business.