The past year has been an odd one with most of the year being swallowed up by a global pandemic, but as COVID-19 restrictions start to ease and change, we’re unlikely to return to our previous behaviours. From our work-life balance to maintaining good hygiene, all of these things are unlikely to fully return to how they used to be, at least not in the near future. But there are downsides to this new normal, particularly when it comes to hygiene concerns, which have led to an increase in an environmental scourge we were finally starting to get on top of: single-use plastics.
There has been some data published on this recently with statistics from mid-2019 (before COVID-19). The findings showed that not only were people avoiding single-use plastics most of the time, but one of the biggest motivators was knowing others were avoiding them too. Avoidance was becoming normal, at least in some countries. Then COVID-19 changed the game. Since the pandemic started, there has been a significant increase in plastic waste, such as medical waste from protective equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns, and increased purchases of sanitary products such as disposable wipes and liquid soap.
The good news is we can return to our plastic-avoiding habits. It just might look a little different.
Despite the fact the virus has been proved to survive longer on plastic compared to other surfaces and a lack of evidence that disposable items are any safer than reusable ones, many businesses are refusing to accept reusable containers, such as coffee cups.
Looking abroad, some government departments delayed upcoming bans on single-use plastics and others overturned existing single-use plastic bag bans. So even if consumers want to avoid single-use plastics, it’s not as easy as it used to be.
It is still possible to avoid unnecessary single-use plastic right now. We just need to get creative and focus on items within our control.
We can still pack shopping in reusable bags, make a coffee at home in a reusable cup, carry reusable straws when we go out – just make sure to wash reusables between each use. The key here is using this as an opportunity to wider our scope of focus to think more private instead of public.
There are plenty of single-use plastics in the home: cling film, coffee pods, shampoo and conditioner bottles, disposable razors and liquid soap dispensers to name a few. To combat this, you can find reusable alternatives for almost everything: beeswax or silicone wraps, reusable coffee pods, shampoo and conditioner bars, reusable safety razors and bars of soap, rather than liquid soap. Buying cleaning products in bulk can also reduce plastic packaging and keeping glass jars or hard plastic containers are great for storing leftovers.
Just because we’re in a period of change and transition, doesn’t mean we have to lose momentum. Single-use plastics are a huge environmental problem that we can continue to address by changing our behaviours.
Many are calling on governments, businesses and individuals to use the pandemic as an opportunity to look at how we used to do things and ask – is there a better way?
When it comes to single use plastics during COVID-19, we can’t control everything. But our actions can help shape what the new normal looks like.
To find out more about the issues with single-use plastic and how the pandemic has had an impact, have a read of these articles:
by Fran Allen, SGO Project Officer #learningforthefuture