Reusable shopping bag

Plastic in the Age of Coronavirus

Why you can ditch plastics and still protect yourself from COVID-19

Over the past few months, it’s felt like the world was on the edge of a tipping point. Public attitudes about plastic – especially the single-use variety – were turning.

Companies across the board have been reviewing their packaging and looking for alternatives as governments are banning everything from plastic shopping bags to straws and single-use cutlery. Activists and environmentalists could almost see a gleam of light at the end of a tunnel.

And then COVID-19 – entered the picture. Suddenly, everyone is reaching for the plastic again.

Starbucks enacted a temporary ban on customers bringing in their reusable coffee mugs and other coffee shop chains followed suit. WIRED reported that clothes rental service Rent the Runway is reassuring people that ‘there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted from soft surfaces like fabric or carpet to humans’. And there is growing media coverage that reusable shopping bags can spread all manner of germs and bacteria if they aren’t washed regularly.

But the idea that something plastic is more sanitary that any other material is a misperception.

Béa Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home, told Grist ‘With disposables, you have no idea who has touched it. With your own reusables, you do! Being afraid of reusables is as ridiculous as being afraid of Corona beer’.

That last comment a reference to fact that Google Trends showed a spike in searches for ‘beer virus’ and ‘Corona beer virus’ at the end of January.

Canvas bag

There is no doubt that plastic has been hugely beneficial to society. The thin, light and durable material can be shaped into endless configurations and has been part of innovations in almost every industry from healthcare to automobiles to food production and distribution.

But the downsides of plastic are all too real and will outlive the COVID-19 virus.

Made from fossil fuels (the extraction and production of which are driving greenhouse gas emissions and climate change), the material doesn’t biodegrade. Instead, it breaks down into microplastics that enter the air and water we depend on. And the chemicals it contains and attracts are harmful to our endocrine system, increasing the chances of ADHD, weakening our immune systems and disrupting our metabolism.

It is possible to ditch plastic and still protect yourself from COVID-19 by following the common sense advice being distributed from the government and World Health Organisation.

  • Wash your hands hourly with soap and hot water for 20 seconds at a time, especially before and after eating
  • Avoid touching your face, especially around your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Clean your kitchen and bathroom frequently, wipe down faucets and cupboard handles, clean door handles and light switches
  • Use your dishwasher to clean plates, cups, cutlery and other storage boxes
  • Wash your clothes regularly with detergent and water
  • Wash your reusable grocery bags and totes after use and try not to put your reusable bags on the floor
  • Use hand sanitiser after touching surfaces and objects in public places like door handles, cash machines and fuel pumps

While the virus is serious and we need to take all the necessary precautions against spreading it – especially to those who are most at risk – let’s remember that this is a temporary situation that will pass. And we will still be left with a planet that needs us to change our lifestyles so we all have a chance at a brighter future.

Similar stories