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COVID litter: Swiss politicians sound the alarm over excess waste

COVID litter: Swiss politicians sound the alarm over excess waste

Politicians and activists from across many Swiss cantons have come together to sound the alarm over the amount of waste created during the COVID-19 pandemic in Switzerland. They are concerned that single-use plastic antigen tests, disposable face masks, used needles and chemical waste are contributing to environmental damage in Switzerland and beyond. 

Swiss companies asked to take a stand against COVID-19 waste

Some of Switzerland’s politicians and activists have called on the government to create stricter regulations on waste disposal for businesses. SP National Councillor and member of the Commission for Energy, Transport and Environment, Martina Munz said, "The efficient use of resources has a lot of room for improvement, especially with disposable products," adding that it "is important to avoid waste before it can even occur."

The main waste-reduction policies proposed involve creating strict regulations on how companies are required to dispose of their waste, for example, through being encouraged or compelled to recycle certain products. Greenpeace Switzerland’s Florian Kasser supports the idea, stressing that even though coronavirus tests "have played an important role in fighting the epidemic," they have done so "at the expense of the environment." 

Kasser also notes other environmental impacts that the pandemic has brought to Switzerland. While the main issue shared by many politicians and activists relates to waste created by COVID-19, Kasser feels that the government should also act to reduce emissions produced by importing goods throughout the crisis. “The shortage of goods during the pandemic made everyone clearly aware of the problem with the global transportation of goods,” he added, alluding to the mass import of medical goods at the start of the pandemic, and the desperate scramble by many European countries to source Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 

World Health Organisation also concerned about COVID-19 waste

Switzerland's environmentalists are not alone in their concern, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently started to sound the alarm, too. According to the organisation, the pandemic has created more than 144.000 tons of waste from vaccine doses, 2.600 tons of test kits and 731.000 litres of chemical waste, without mentioning other waste such as disposable masks and gloves. 

The WHO has noted for some time that the healthcare system and medical industry more widely has suffered with serious issues regarding waste, but representatives of the organisation admit that the problem has gotten "much worse" since the pandemic started. "It is absolutely vital to provide health workers with the right PPE," said Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme. "But, it is also vital to ensure that PPE can be used safely without impacting on the surrounding environment."

Not everyone in Switzerland agrees that companies should be held accountable for the increases in waste. Rudolf Minsch, chief economist at the business umbrella organisation economiesuisse, said, "It would be wrong if politicians took this crisis as an opportunity to give companies rigid sustainability requirements. Swiss companies are already very active here - out of their own motivation." 

Emily Proctor

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Emily Proctor

Emily studied International Relations and Chinese, and is now undertaking Master's degree in International Security. She enjoys writing, cooking, and playing piano.

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