How to avoid single-use plastics during the pandemic
What’s the problem?
There has been a huge increase in the use of disposable items during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially
single-use plastics, which is having a major environmental impact. Plastic is a significant contributor to climate change, as it generates greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle. Plastic waste has an enormously detrimental effect on
our rivers, oceans and wildlife. It can choke or smother fish, dolphins, seabirds and seals. No area of surface ocean anywhere on earth is free of plastic pollution. It takes hundreds of years to break down, and the effects of microplastics on eco-systems are only just beginning to be understood.
Covid will eventually go away, plastic waste won’t; it’s here forever.
Isn’t plastic essential to protect us from the virus? Items made of single-use plastic have undoubtedly been important in the fight against Covid-19, especially for protective equipment for frontline health and care workers. However, in non-clinical settings, there is no evidence that disposable plastic versions of products such as gloves, facemasks or food and drink packaging give any greater protection against coronavirus than reusable equivalents.
What can we do?
There are a wide range of alternatives to using disposable single-use plastic items. To reduce the risk of
transmission of the virus, good hygiene practices and risk management measures continue to be vital.
Facemasks: Reusable face coverings for the general public are recommended. Research found that well-fitting two or three layer fabric masks are just as effective at filtering out bacterial particles as single-use surgical masks. If half of the UK’s population used one disposable mask a day for a year, it would create more than 30,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste.
Gloves: Disposable surgical gloves are not generally needed for the general public: Gloves are likely to become contaminated when out and about; so instead of throwing away a pair of gloves each time you go out, washing your hands or using sanitiser are better options. Wearing gloves may also give the false impression of hand hygiene, while forgetting to change your gloves would be just as bad as forgetting to wash your hands.
Reusable cups, food containers and shopping bags: A study concluded that during the pandemic these reusable items can be used safely by employing basic hygiene.
Disposable cups and plates: There are various alternatives such as compostable plant-based Vegware vegware.com and other suppliers.
Cleaning: Current government advice is that there is no need to use additional personal protective equipment, antibacterial wipes or other disposable products when cleaning in non healthcare settings during the pandemic. The recommendation is to clean and launder more often, using standard products. Eco friendly cleaning products in refillable containers are becoming available in many places.