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3B Solstar Nucifera A Slice of Green A Warne AB Packaging Abaca Packaging Ah! Table! Algalife Algopack Algotek All 4 Labels Allied Glass Amipak Amphorea Amy Jade Creations Ardagh Group Ardalanish Arjowiggins Astu Eco AVANI BagasseWare Baker Labels Bakergoodchild Ball Bambu BASF Beatson Clark Best Practice Packaging LLC. Better Packaging Billerwkorsnas Bio Bag UK Bio Viron Bio4Life Bio4Pack BIOFASE Biome Plastics Biopac Biopak Biopap BioTAK Biotec Biotrem Butterfly Cup Bysshe CamVac Carapac Carters Packaging Cartulinas CMPC Celanese Cellcomb Chapelton Board CKF Clondalkin Coburger Cocccon Cocoform Cocolok Coconutbowls Coir Lanka Cole Fabrics Colombier Colourform Colpac Columbia Pulp Comp Bio COSIBRA Cotton Barons Coveris Covim Creapaper Crown Holdings Croxsons Glass Cullen Cupffee Cygnus Eco Danimer Scientific Dans Le Sac Decent Packaging Delipac Dempson Direct Packaging Ltd Do Eat Do Your Bit Down2Earth DUNI Earth Distributors Earth Friendly Foodware Earthable ® Earths Tribe East Kent Cartons East Yorkshire Hemp Eco Safe Eco Tensil Ecofoil Ecological Textiles Ecomenu Ecomojiware Ecotainer Ecovaganza Ecovative Elevate Packaging ElPack Emerald City Enviro Textiles Enviropack Enviropak Envopap Ethical Ernie Evesham EVLON Evoware Fabri-Kal FF Packaging Fibre Bio Fibre Form Fibrepak Fiesta Green Fleet Luxury Flexi-Hex Floreon Fold-Pak Footprint Four Eco Foxpak Friendlypak Frusack Futamura Gaia Biomaterials Good Life Grado Zero Innovation Graphic Packaging Green Cell Green Gate Green Sax Greenman Packaging HAVI Healthy Eco Hemp Black, Inc Hemp Fabric Lab Hemporium Herbal Fab Himalayan Wild Fibres Hugh Jordan Huhtamaki Hunter Luxury Huski Home Huskup I2R Iggesund InkReadible International Paper James Cropper Jardin Corrugated Jars Direct Jelld Packaging Jerry Just Straw KANEKA Karmic Seed KeCo KINYI Kotkamills Lactips Lean Orb Lenzing Libeco LignoPure Little Cherry Little Green Panda Loliware London Bio Packaging Magic Film Magnum Packaging Maibao Maistic Make Grow Lab Malai Marinatex Marleys Monsters Massilly UK Ltd Masteroast Metsa Board Mirum Monadnock Mushroom Packaging My Element Myco Works National Flexible Natur Tec Nature & My Nature Works (Ingeo) Natureflex Naturesse NEFFA Nettle Fibre Company noissue NOTPLA Novamont Nutscene O Eco Textiles O-I Glass Offset Offset Warehouse OOMPH! Orange Fibre Organic Silks ORGANOID Packhelp Pactiv Panda Packaging Paper Pulp Solutions Paper Straw People Paper Straws GB PaperFoam PaperWise Paptic Parkside Pattesons Glass Ltd Pick Natural Pinatex Planglow Plant Made Bottles Plastiroll (Bioska) Polybags Precious Planet Priory Press Ptt MCC Biochem Pulp2Pack PURE Labels QMilk Quintessential Ranpak RawPac RBECO Reel Brands Repaq ReSpiin Riji KCC SABERT Samatoa Lotus Textiles Sana Packaging Sappi SBKG Scitech Seaman Paper Seidentraum SFI Tanzania Shredhouse Ltd Simplifi Fabric Sirane SmartSolve SMC Smurfkit Kappa Solublue Soul Bottles Southern Cross Packaging Spear Coco Spinnova Starlight Sticky Labels Stolzle Glass Group Stora Enso Storopack Sun Packaging Sunkea Surepak Suzano Swanline Taghleef Industries Tea Direct Terracaps Tessile Eco Bio Test Valley The Cloth House The Great British Paper Straw Company The Hemp Shop The Jute Shop The Wheat Straws Company Thought Threads of Peru Tinplate Tinware Direct TIPA Total Papers Trama Textiles Transcend Packaging Transpack Tri-Star Tulsack Turtle Bags Tyler Packaging UB Pack USO Bio VEGEA Vegware Viscose Visican Voidfill VPZ Walki Westfield Thermoform Whole Packs Wild Fibres Wild Silk Markets Wilkins Wool Cool YRG Group Yuggen Zeoform Zest Packaging ZS Fabrics
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3B Solstar A Slice of Green A Warne AB Packaging Ah! Table! Algalife Algopack Allied Glass Amipak Amphorea Ardagh Group Ardalanish Arjowiggins Baker Labels Bakergoodchild Ball BASF Beatson Clark Billerwkorsnas Bio Bag UK Bio Viron Bio4Life Bio4Pack BIOFASE Biome Plastics Biopac Biopap BioTAK Biotec Biotrem Butterfly Cup Bysshe CamVac Carters Packaging Cellcomb Chapelton Board CKF Clondalkin Coburger Cocccon Cocoform Cocolok Coconutbowls Cole Fabrics Colourform Colpac Comp Bio Cotton Barons Covim Creapaper Cullen Cupffee Cygnus Eco Delipac Dempson Direct Packaging Ltd Do Eat Do Your Bit Down2Earth DUNI Earth Friendly Foodware East Kent Cartons East Yorkshire Hemp Ecofoil Ecological Textiles Ecomenu Ecovaganza ElPack Enviropack Enviropak Ethical Ernie Evesham FF Packaging Fibre Bio Fibre Form Fibrepak Fiesta Green Fleet Luxury Flexi-Hex Floreon Four Eco Foxpak Frusack Gaia Biomaterials Good Life Grado Zero Innovation Green Cell Green Gate Green Sax Greenman Packaging HAVI Hugh Jordan Huhtamaki Hunter Luxury Huski Home Huskup I2R Iggesund InkReadible James Cropper Jardin Corrugated Jars Direct Jelld Packaging Jerry Just Straw KeCo Kotkamills Lactips Lenzing Libeco LignoPure Little Cherry London Bio Packaging Magnum Packaging Maistic Make Grow Lab Marinatex Massilly UK Ltd Masteroast Metsa Board My Element National Flexible Nature & My Natureflex Naturesse NEFFA Nettle Fibre Company NOTPLA Novamont Nutscene O Eco Textiles O-I Glass Offset Offset Warehouse OOMPH! Orange Fibre Organic Silks ORGANOID Packhelp Panda Packaging Paper Pulp Solutions Paper Straw People PaperFoam PaperWise Paptic Parkside Pattesons Glass Ltd Pinatex Planglow Plant Made Bottles Plastiroll (Bioska) Polybags Precious Planet Priory Press QMilk Quintessential RawPac RBECO Reel Brands Repaq ReSpiin Riji KCC SABERT Scitech Shredhouse Ltd Sirane SMC Smurfkit Kappa Solublue Soul Bottles Southern Cross Packaging Spinnova Starlight Sticky Labels Stolzle Glass Group Stora Enso Storopack Sun Packaging Surepak Swanline Tea Direct Terracaps Tessile Eco Bio Test Valley The Cloth House The Hemp Shop The Wheat Straws Company Tinplate Tinware Direct Transcend Packaging Transpack Tri-Star Turtle Bags Tyler Packaging USO Bio VEGEA Vegware Viscose Visican Voidfill VPZ Westfield Thermoform Whole Packs Wild Fibres Wilkins Wool Cool YRG Group Yuggen Zest Packaging
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Carmen Barrera has been fishing in the waters around the Canary Islands for almost a decade. But only in recent months has she noticed the large number of plastic gloves and other items of personal protective equipment floating in the water or caught in her nets.

“It worries me a lot,” Ms Barrera told the Financial Times from her Tenerife home. “From the first moment people began to wear gloves and masks, we’ve also began to see them at sea. The problem is in how people use and dispose of their waste.” 

PPE production has surged in recent months as healthcare providers have collectively bought millions of items to prevent the spread of coronavirus among their staff, and citizen have taken to wearing masks and other types of protection to better shield themselves.

But as the global health emergency has taken centre stage, many believe the battle to reduce plastic waste has been sidelined by both governments and conscientious consumers.

“PPE is the tip of a mountain of toxic plastic waste that we’ve been ignoring for years,” said Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, a not-for-profit group seeking to wean people off the material.

A study published on Thursday forecasts that the flow of plastic into oceans would nearly treble by 2040 to 29m tonnes per year if much greater action was not taken by governments and industry. “We’re getting ourselves deeper and deeper into a plastics hole without knowing where any of it is going,” said Martin Stuchtey, managing partner at SystemIQ, a sustainability group that co-authored the report.

Much of the PPE used around the world is single-use by design and can contain a range of different plastics, from polypropylene and polyethylene in face masks and gowns to nitrile, vinyl and latex in gloves.

Yet just a few decades ago, almost all PPE was reusable, said Jodi Sherman, professor of anaesthesiology and epidemiology at Yale University. That changed in the 1980s when the medical devices industry recognised the moneymaking potential of single-use disposable products, she explained. 

“The more stuff you throw away, the more you have to buy, so it’s an advantageous business model for things not to be durable,” Prof Sherman said.

Now the vast majority of protective equipment is disposable, manufactured far from the point-of-use and delivered just in time to limit the need for warehousing and to ensure supplies do not expire.

The World Health Organization projected that PPE supplies would need to increase by 40 per cent monthly to meet demand during the pandemic, including an estimated 89m masks, 76m pairs of gloves and 1.6m pairs of goggles. Frost & Sullivan, a consulting firm, has predicted that the US could generate an entire year’s worth of medical waste in just two months.

But governments are only now beginning to reflect on where these millions of products will end up. 

The UK’s health and social care department said it was unable to say how the 2bn pieces of protective equipment it procured would be disposed of, but that it was looking into effective alternatives to the single-use model. 

Much of Europe’s waste is shipped to countries such as Indonesia and Turkey, which Ms Sutherland of A Plastic Planet described as the “worst of waste imperialism”.

Hazardous medical waste is often incinerated on site in many western countries to prevent the transmission of infectious disease — a process that can lead to the release of toxic pollutants. 

“Other than burning them, there is nothing really we can do. It’s designed to be waste,” said Sander Defruyt, head of the plastics team at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity founded by the British yachtswoman.

But as a growing number of ordinary citizens follow governmental guidance and don single-use protective equipment, PPE is also ending up in conventional waste streams or being dumped in the open air.

According to a WWF report, even if only 1 per cent of masks are disposed of incorrectly, some 10m will end up in the natural environment a month, polluting rivers and oceans.

To exacerbate the problem, the global Covid-19 lockdown has disrupted waste management systems around the world and led to drastic reductions in the price of plastics. 

Even before oil prices crashed this year, prices of the most common plastics were at multiyear lows, largely due to oversupply. Prices for high-density polyethylene have slumped by almost half since the start of 2018, according to S&P Global Platts, while prices for polypropylene are down by more than one-third. And since mid-2019, recycled PET has been more expensive than its virgin counterpart.

Meanwhile, policies to curb the use of plastics have been placed on the backburner. Several governments have delayed single use plastic bans amid concerns around the transmission of Covid-19, including the UK and Portugal.

Finding a solution to the plastic boom during and after the pandemic will require a joint effort between manufacturers and policymakers to rethink and regulate the entire lifecycle of products, experts say. 

A Plastic Planet has been producing 1m plastic free protective mask made of recyclable and biodegradable parts per week and has distributed them around the world, including in hair salons and restaurants.

Reusing PPE is another option. Professor Sherman at Yale said that for most medical equipment, there was no evidence that patients were safer with single use items than reusable ones.

Since government and corporate action to cut PPE waste has been limited in recent months, searching for recyclable or reusable equipment is the best option available to consumers looking to reduce their plastic footprint, environmentalist say.

Ms Barrera, the fisherwoman, believes everyone must work together if the world is to turn the tide on plastic waste.

“Populations and governments are the only ones that can stop this,” she said. “We need to opt for products that are more ecological and sustainable and prohibit the use of single-use plastics.”