More air pollution leads to more plastic waste

More air pollution leads to more plastic waste
A report links smoggy urban days to a rise in food deliveries and plastic waste.

A fresh study from the National University of Singapore asserts that urban polluting of the environment contributes to more plastic waste.

On smoggy days, urban workers desperate to remain indoors often have lunch delivered to their offices, and the packaging where the food arrives adds to the plastic waste stream.

When quality of air is poor, people employed in offices order drastically more takeout delivery.

Study author Alberto Salvo of the university’s Department of Economics says:

“Plastic waste is a growing global environmental concern. While we see more research on the impact plastic pollution is having on the natural environment, there has been less work trying to understand the human behavior that drives plastic pollution.”

The study centered on three Chinese cities that experience high levels of polluting of the environment: Beijing, Shenyang, and Shijiazhuang. Food delivery services are popular in China, with 350 million registered users. More than half of the 65 million food containers discarded everyday in China are disposed of by office workers.

According to Salvo, “Air quality in the urban developing world is routinely poor, and before decade, the meals delivery industry has been growing sharply.”

The study appears in Nature Human Behaviour.

Air pollution and food delivery
The analysis rated pollution levels according to PM2.5 measurements. PM2.5 may be the abbreviation for “fine particles significantly less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.”

In the United States, the utmost acceptable 24-hour ambient quality of air is 35 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3). The air pollution levels recorded in the studied cities considerably exceeded that threshold, and the pollution was obvious to the naked eye.

The NUS researchers, which also included Liu Haoming and Chu Junhong, gathered food ordering data from two sources:

251 office personnel in the three cities were surveyed regarding their lunch options for 11 days, between January and June 2018.
3.5 million food orders located with an online food delivery service whose 350,000 customers representing all market segments
When the researchers matched this data to air-pollution records, they found a solid connection between higher polluting of the environment levels and increased food orders.

The data indicated that a 100 μg/m3 upsurge in air pollution led to a 7.2% upsurge in orders from all market segments.

Office personnel were six times much more likely than other people to order food delivery when pollution increased by 100 μg/m3.

Chu notes that people at home have the choice of preparing their lunch without venturing out, but, “Confronted with smog or haze outside, an average office worker at lunchtime can avoid exposure only by ordering food to be sent to [their] doorstep.”

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