The Coronavirus pandemic has brought on a new wave of single use plastics. While safe PPE for healthcare workers like gloves, face masks, shoe coverings and disposable aprons is a priority, businesses and consumers alike are rejecting reusable and package-free products in fear of cross-contamination, and governments around the world are postponing vital climate-positive policies.
Unfortunately, the single use plastic crisis has not gone away because of the health crisis, so it’s more important than ever to tackle waste and pollution head-on to avoid backtracking on the last few years of positive progress on plastics.
The bad news: Single use plastic in a time of Coronavirus
According to CNN, the Covid-19 pandemic has spurred a rapid expansion in plastic production. Environmental campaigners fear that the new wave of visible litter like disposable face masks and gloves on our streets and beaches is just the tip of the iceberg, which could spell years of trouble for our already polluted oceans.
Beyond PPE, people are stockpiling single use products, such as plastic-wrapped groceries, liquid soaps, hand sanitisers, disposable surface wipes and disinfectants. What’s more, many takeaways are refusing to accept reusable coffee cups amidst hygiene fears, while some state and city councils have even introduced bans on reusable carrier bags.
Meanwhile, the plastic industry has asked governments for billion dollar bailouts, exploiting health anxiety to spread misinformation on single-use plastics, and lobbying to weaken and delay environmental protections. Vital legislation is already being postponed due to Coronavirus, such as England’s hesitation to push forward a landmark ban on plastic straws and stirrers. Progress on finally banning the use of plastic carrier bags was hopeful, but in the current crisis, there is a new wave of single use plastics.
The good news: Climate action can’t be stopped
It’s not all doom and gloom - incredible work by eco activists around the world has led to some important anti-plastic policy achievements during lockdown. For example, the Scottish Parliament finally voted through Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme after years of campaigning, and Wales has introduced plans to ban plastic straws, cotton buds and balloon sticks by 2021.
Environmental activism has also continued, even in our increasingly virtual world. The Global Climate Strike movement has pivoted to online, hosting regular #digitalstrike actions, joining Greta Thunberg and other young activists at Fridays for Future. Extinction Rebellion activists are reimagining physical protests too, recently displaying thousands of pairs of shoes in place of protesters in front of Trafalgar Square to demand the British government stop bailing out polluting industries.
Safe reusable products and sustainable PPE
Unless you are a healthcare worker on the frontline, remember that reusable and package-free products are still safe to use. Don’t be afraid to grab those loose bananas or fill up mason jars with flour at the zero waste bulk buy store. If you are allowed in your local area, keep bringing reusable carrier bags and coffee cups on your outings.
You can also buy non-medical grade fabric face masks from sustainable fashion brands such as Reformation, ArmedAngels, WAWWA, Millie Scott and Emily Millichip. It’s also a great time to get creative - make your own face masks with this simple tutorial. You can also explore homemade cleaning products with these natural kitchen cleaning recipes.
Finally, it is vital that you stay informed about plastic pollution and stay vigilant against misinformation and corruption. We recommend you follow activists and sustainable influencers on social media, like Greta Thunberg, Kathryn Kelogg, Kids Against Plastic, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Chicks for Climate, Surfers Against Sewage, Marine Conservation Society, and follow us at Global Wakeup for zero waste inspiration and top tips. You can also find out more about the single-use plastics crisis with this essential read by Lucy Siegle, Turning the Tide on Plastic.