What do we know about the relationships between waste and COVID-19? Some figures and insights are emerging, but given that we’re in the thick of the pandemic and the expressions of a global pandemic will still vary greatly by region, type of waste, and change over time, any knowledge will be both partial and early.
As such, we advocate for a position of epistemic humility in relation to the pandemic, the recognition that there are real limits to our knowledge. As we watch researchers delve into unfamiliar fields of epidemiology, public health, federal policy, and global pandemics, it reminds us here at Discard Studies about the dangers of overconfidence and that “being a true expert involves not only knowing stuff about the world but also knowing the limits of your knowledge and expertise” (Angner, 2020). We believe “Epistemic humility is an intellectual virtue. It is grounded in the realization that our knowledge is always provisional and incomplete—and that it might require revision in light of new evidence” (Angner, 2020).
With that in mind, we’ve curated a round-up of some of the knowledge circulating about waste, pollution, disposability and COVID-19, some of it by experts in the areas that pandemics relate to, others not, and all of it partial. Before we launch into the beautiful bibliography of it all, though, we want to note that there is an acute disparity in who is producing this knowledge–mainly men, mostly white people in the global north, and rarely Black, Indigenous, and scholars of colour whose communities are often disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and whose combination of expertise and lived experience is missing. We start our bibliography with a list of research that shows these disparities in our own knowledge community. The existing uneveness of knowledge production has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Disparities in knowledge production during the pandemic
- Andersen, Jens Peter, Mathias Wullum Nielsen, Nicole L. Simone, Resa E. Lewiss, and Reshma Jagsi. (2020). Meta-Research: COVID-19 medical papers have fewer women first authors than expected. Elife, 9, e58807.
- Cui, R., Ding, H., & Zhu, F. (2020). Gender Inequality in Research Productivity During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Available at SSRN 3623492.
- Gabster, Brooke Peterson, Kim van Daalen, Roopa Dhatt, and Michele Barry. (2020). Challenges for the female academic during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lancet, 395(10242), 1968-1970.
- Malisch, Jessica L., Breanna N. Harris, Shanen M. Sherrer, Kristy A. Lewis, Stephanie L. Shepherd, Pumtiwitt C. McCarthy, Jessica L. Spott, Karam, E.P., Moustaid-Moussa, N., Calarco, J.M. and Ramalingam, L. (2020). Opinion: In the wake of COVID-19, academia needs new solutions to ensure gender equity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117, no. 27: 15378-15381.
- Staniscuaski, Fernanda, Livia Kmetzsch, Eugenia Zandona, Fernanda Reichert, Rossana C. Soletti, Zelia MC Ludwig, Eliade F. Lima, Neumann, A., Schwartz, I.V., Mello-Carpes, P.B. and Tamajusuku, A.S. (2020). Gender, race and parenthood impact academic productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic: from survey to action. bioRxiv (2020).
- Yildirim, T. Murat, and Hande Eslen‐Ziya. (2020). The Differential Impact of COVID‐19 on the Work Conditions of Women and Men Academics during the Lockdown. Gender, Work & Organization.
Peer-reviewed published studies
Using Dr. Jane Summer’s Gender Balance Assessment Tool (GBAT), 70% of authors below are men and 30% are women based on first names.
- González-Fernández, Jorge, María Ibáñez-Bernáldez, José Amador Martínez-Tejedor, Sergio Alama-Carrizo, Félix Sánchez-Ugena, and José María Montero-Juanes. (2020).Management of corpses during the COVID-19 pandemic in Spain. Spanish Journal of Legal Medicine.
- Kalina, Marc and Elizabeth Tilley (2020) “This is our Next Problem”: Cleaning up from the Covid-19 Response. Waste Management. 108: 202-205.
- Kalina, Marc. (2020) The Source of Waste and the End of Waste: Covid-19, Climate, and the Failure of Individual Action. Detritus. 10. v-vii.
- Mihai, Florin-Constantin. (2020). Assessment of COVID-19 Waste Flows During the Emergency State in Romania and Related Public Health and Environmental Concerns. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17, no. 15: 5439.
- Musa, H. H., Musa, T. H., Musa, I. H., & Oderinde, O. (2020). Letter to Editor COVID-19 outbreak and medical waste: Challenge in hand. International Journal of Public Health, 9(3), 153-154.
- Ragazzi, Marco, Elena Cristina Rada, and Marco Schiavon. (2020). Municipal solid waste management during the SARS-COV-2 outbreak and lockdown ease: Lessons from Italy.Science of The Total Environment: 141159.
- Tilley, Elizabeth and Marc Kalina (2020) ‘We are already sick’: Infectious waste management and inequality in the time of Covid-19, a reflection from Blantyre, Malawi. Worldwide Waste. 3(1): 3-10.
- Wenham, Clare, Julia Smith, and Rosemary Morgan. COVID-19: the gendered impacts of the outbreak. The Lancet 395, no. 10227 (2020): 846-848.
News, magazine articles, letters, and commentary
- Waste-picker & informal waste collectors of India seek safety measures from Indian government to safeguard against COVID 19 (March 23, 2020)
- Driving home “single-use”: Plastic politics in the times of the COVID-19(April 30, 2020)
- A coronavirus time bomb waiting to explode: India’s 4 million waste pickers (May 1, 2020)
- A nuclear waste site where the biggest fear isn’t radiation, but coronavirus (May 4, 2020)
- California’s beverage container redemption volume drops estimated 30% during pandemic (May 29, 2020)
- Deadly Exposures: COVID-19 and the Slow Violence of Lead Exposure (June 19, 2020)
- Meat production, COVID-19, environmental injustice: Is there room for industrial farming in the post-pandemic world?(June 19, 2020)
- The challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis for human-animal relations (June 19, 2020)
- A pandemic of water privatization: Poverty and lack of water in Chile (June 19, 2020)
- Epidemic of Contaminated Waste Is Following the Coronavirus (June 22, 2020)
- Covid-19 has led to a pandemic of plastic pollution (June 22, 2020)
- COVID-19 is laying waste to many US recycling programs (June 23, 2020)
- COVID-19’s unsustainable waste management (June 26, 2020)
- COVID-19 Fallout: Tons of Trash (June 29, 2020)
- Recycling stakeholders say years of turbulence helped prepare industry for pandemic (June 30, 2020)
- House hearing highlights political divide over plastics and pandemic response (July 10, 2020)
- ‘You have to take action’: one hospital cleaner’s journey through the pandemic – podcast (July 13, 2020)
- COVID-19 has resurrected single-use plastics – are they back to stay? (July 14, 2020)
- Container demand changing alongside pandemic-driven volume shifts (July 14, 2020)
- Renewed interest in automated side loaders driven by pandemic concerns, persistent safety issues (July 23, 2020)
- Halfway through an upended year, 8 big questions remain for waste and recycling (July 27, 2020)
- Corrugated box industry bolstered by pandemic trends, including e-commerce (July 29, 2020)
- How coronavirus is disrupting US waste and recycling (August 5, 2020, with updates)
- Coronavirus In Minnesota: Residential Waste ‘Off The Charts’ Due To Pandemic (September 3, 2020)
- Coronavirus continues to disrupt waste and recycling service around the US (September 4, 2020)
- Indiana University Sees Decline in Food Waste Due to COVID-19 (September 10, 2020)
- Accumulation of plastic waste during COVID-19 (September 11, 2020)
- Radioactive Medical Waste Market Size And Forecast (2020-2026)| With Post Impact Of Covid-19 By Top Leading Players (September 11, 2020)
- Dental Waste Disposal Service Market Report 2020 (COVID-19 Impact Analysis) By Segmentations (September 11, 2020)
For news coverage of waste management and COVID-19 in the United States, see Waste Dive’s news aggregator on the topic.