5 Ways to Reduce Single-Use Plastic Waste During the Pandemic

Covid-19 has triggered a backslide in plastic usage. Here are some simple moves to get back on track.
Stop Plastic Volodymyr Hryshchenko Unsplash

Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Amid the  pandemic, we are seeing a resurgence in consumption of single-use plastics—items designed to be used once and then thrown away. Most single-use plastics are non-recyclable, yet they account for 42% of plastics used for food packaging.

Prior to Covid-19, it seemed the tide was finally turning on these plastics that litter the ocean to the tune of 8 million metric tons per year. Many municipalities were considering bans on single-use plastics like shopping bags, utensils, straws and polystyrene. Then the pandemic arrived, causing a regression and proliferation of single-use plastics, which were seen as a safer option.

While single-use plastics are sometimes merited, particularly in medical settings, their overuse is a major problem and worsens climate change. Plastic is made from petroleum and its by-products, as well as ethane gas from fracking. These operations have huge implications in greenhouse gas emissions. Single-use plastics also have such a low recycling rate that most end up polluting the environment, animals and humans with chemicals that become endocrine disruptors and microplastics in the water.

In June, more than 125 public health experts from 19 countries signed a statement dispelling the myth that reusable products were unsafe during the pandemic. They called on retailers and businesses to retract bans on reusables and lessen their reliance on single-use plastics.

The latest research indicates that Covid-19 spreads mainly through respiratory droplets and aerosols. While one contact study showed the virus can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel for two to three days, this is the case whether that surface is reusable or single-use.

One significant difference that sets reusables apart from single-use items is their ability to be disinfected. It is already proven that household cleaners, disinfectants and soap kill the virus on surfaces, so there should be no compelling reason to use disposables. One could argue that reusables are even more sanitary, as long as they are properly cleaned.

Here are a few simple ways to get back on track and use less throw-away plastic:

Bara Buri Unsplash

Bara Buri on Unsplash

Choose reusable and washable fabric masks that meet CDC guidelines (Use Masks to Help Slow Spread)

Markus Spiske Unsplash

Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Bring reusable cutlery, bags, containers and cups when it is safe to do so and on the go.

Daiga Ellaby Unsplash

Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

In lieu of disposable wipes, use reusable and washable cloths to clean surfaces with disinfectant sprays.

Jasmin Sessler Unsplash

Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash

Cut down on takeout containers by cooking at home, using ingredients that are packaged in paper, glass, or metal.

Rupixen.com On Unsplash

Rupixen.com on Unsplash

When ordering home goods or groceries online, request less (or no) plastic packaging if given the option, and try to prioritize reusables or durable items.

Of course, there are times when single-use plastics are necessary and unavoidable. But even the smallest effort to cut back can make a difference for humans and the planet.

An Arlington native and graduate of The Field School in Washington, D.C., Sawyer London is now studying sustainability, visual arts and social justice in college. 

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