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Plastic debris and face masks on a beach in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Photo: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Over 25,000 tons of pandemic-related plastic waste pollute the global ocean, according to a study published in the journal PNAS on Monday.

Why it matters: Plastic waste poses a major threat to marine life and ecosystems. COVID-19 only increased the demand for single-use plastic, "intensifying pressure on this already out-of-control problem," the researchers write.

  • The world has generated over 8 million tons of pandemic-related plastic waste. Most of this waste comes from hospitals and mainly accumulates on beaches and coastal sediments.

Threat level: "The released plastics can be transported over long distances in the ocean, encounter marine wildlife, and potentially lead to injury or even death," the researchers said.

For the record: A recent study estimated that 1.56 million face masks entered the oceans in 2020. The excess waste will serve a long-term risk, researchers caution.

The bottom line: "We find a long-lasting impact of the pandemic-associated waste release in the global ocean," the study states.

  • "At the end of this century, the model suggests that almost all the pandemic-associated plastics end up in either the seabed (28.8%) or beaches (70.5%)."
  • The findings reflect the need to improve medical waste management mechanisms, especially in developing countries, researchers note.

The big picture: Plastic pollution in oceans and other bodies of water could more than double by 2030, per an October assessment by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

  • Recycling won't cut it anymore, the report found.
  • "It is vital that we use this momentum to focus on the opportunities for a clean, healthy and resilient ocean," UNEP executive director Inger Andersen said in a statement.

Worth noting: The study comes as world leaders tackle climate change at COP26 in Glasgow.

Go deeper

17 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.

Updated 20 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: U.S. to mandate vaccines for anyone who crosses borders starting in January — Shots lagged data by months — The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort.
  2. Health: The Thanksgiving bouncers — Axios-Ipsos poll: Thanksgiving roulette — Experts criticize CDC's language on vaccine boosters — America's Thanksgiving gamble.
  3. Politics: Biden administration asks appeals court to reinstate vaccine mandate — Michigan recommends face masks for all residents amid surge.
  4. Education: A COVID strategy backfires at schools — Schools across the U.S. offer vaccine drivesBenefits of in-person school outweigh risks, study finds.
  5. World: EU drug regulator recommends Pfizer COVID vaccine for kids — Italy announces new COVID restrictions for unvaccinated people — European health agency urges expanding booster shot access.
  6. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
22 hours ago - Health

Fauci: U.S. "rushing" to get scientific data about new COVID variant

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

U.S. public health officials were set to speak Friday with their South Africa counterparts as they sought scientific details about a new COVID-19 variant already prompting European and Asian countries to enact new travel restrictions.

Driving the news: Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, told CNN Friday "we're rushing now to get that scientific data to try and make an informed decision" on a possible travel ban.