The Clean Water Blog

Reducing Plastic Waste and COVID-19

Across the country and the world, we are all struggling to cope with the new reality that is COVID-19. Our lives have been upended and everyone is trying to figure out how to minimize their risk to this new virus. People are coming together: neighborhood listservs are flooded with people offering to pick up groceries for neighbors, a Philadelphia hotel is offering free rooms to doctors and nurses working nearby, and in Mt Rainier, Maryland a cellist plays daily concerts on her front porch.

Unfortunately, the plastics industry is trying to capitalize on the crisis to promote their unsustainable product, and are taking advantage of our justified fears to reverse the trend of people reducing their reliance on single-use plastics. Worldwide, they are stoking fear by misrepresenting studies and  claiming their products will reduce the spread of this virus. From attacking reusable mugs to plastic bag bans, they are engaged in a concerted effort to drive up demand of their product and increase the plastic footprint.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that COVID-19 can remain viable on plastic for up to three days. Plastic is not a panacea - it is not a magical solution that will stop the spread of COVID-19. Despite the plastic industry’s attempts to frame single-use plastics as the only safe option for transporting food and beverages, we know that soap and hot water are very effective at killing coronavirus (and that dishwashers are even better!) and therefore the best way to protect ourselves when getting our groceries or takeout. A switch back to single-use plastics does nothing to stop COVID-19, but it does undermine recent efforts to reduce our reliance on a material that pollutes our world in every stage of its life: manufacture, disposal, and eventual breakdown in our oceans.

It is inappropriate for the plastic and fossil fuel industry to try to exploit the COVID-19 crisis to market their products. They have published articles misrepresenting studies in order to claim  that plastic is safer, when we know that the virus can actually remain viable on plastic for longer than on other materials, like cardboard. They have sent letters urging states and municipalities around the country to walk back plastic bag bans and fees in the name of health. The plastics industry is fear mongering during an unprecedented public health crisis to increase their profits and their foothold in American life.

In New Jersey, towns received letters from the New Jersey Food Council asking them to delay or rescind their local ordinances banning plastic bags. While municipalities, like Bradley Beach and others, have decided not to do so, in other states municipalities are. In Montgomery County, Maryland, a suburban county outside the nation’s capital, the county council is considering a proposal to suspend the plastic bag fee. The given rationale is that plastic bags are needed to slow the spread of COVID-19, an unproven claim promoted by the plastic industry. 

We can reduce our plastic use while reducing our exposure to COVID-19.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for the recommended 20 seconds
  • Bag your own groceries when at the store. If your local government has prohibited reusable grocery bags from being used in the store, keep your bags in your car, put your items back in the cart after checking out, then bring them out to your car and bag them there 
  • Wash your reusable bags and clothes when you return home. Reusable cloth bags can be thrown into the washing machine and dryer.
  • Wash reusable mugs and utensils with soap and water, in a dishwasher if available
  • Be wary of plastic items which have been handled by others - coronavirus can live on hard surfaces for up to 3 days

For more information about the importance of reducing single-use plastics, visit www.rethinkdisposable.org.

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