For the last few months, we've all been inundated with new information and precarious safety precautions on a daily basis. At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we saw a shift from reusable products to single-use items, as the world figured out how to best proceed in these times of heightened hygiene and hand washing.
We saw this fear materialise as cafes started refusing to serve drinks in reusable cups, plastic bags and gloves were far and wide in grocery stores, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitisers were sold out and all over the world, we rushed to fill our freezers with food and our bathrooms with toilet paper. I even noticed that gloves and masks became commonplace litter seen scattered on the sidewalk and on the roads.
This is understandable. There was so much uncertainty, misinformation and fear that it was natural to revert back to plastic, which historically has been portrayed as more hygienic and which seemed to help us limit contact with others. And when it comes to medical supplies, it is more hygienic. But when it comes to day-to-day life , it's not. And it may not be during the pandemic either. We've proven that reusables are hygienic and safe in the past and they can be again.
Now with more clarity of the virus itself and what we can do to keep ourselves safe, experts are saying that we don't need to replace our reusables with single-use plastics.
Nearly 130 scientists, academics and doctors from 19 countries signed a statement to reassure retailers and consumers that reusable and refillable items can still be used safely during the pandemic, as long as proper basic hygiene is employed.
Experts agree: the pandemic does not mean we need to trash the planet. REUSABLES ARE AS SAFE AS DISPOSABLES! Check out the statement. #BreakFreeFromPlastic #COVID19 https://t.co/Cc1ZXfKF8f
— Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (@ayanaeliza) June 22, 2020
According to Greenpeace "The experts — along with Greenpeace USA and UPSTREAM, both members of the Break Free From Plastic movement — note that household disinfectants have been proven effective at disinfecting hard surfaces, such as reusable cups and containers."
This means that we are able to clean our reusable items, just as we would our hands or food during this time.
Fruit and Vegetables
According to scientists, single-use plastics are no safer than reusable items, the virus can still live on plastic surfaces. In fact, according to the Guardian who reported on this study, the Covid-19 virus could live on plastic up to 3-6 days as opposed to 1 day on cloth and 3 days on glass. Regardless of what you use to hold your fruit and veg while you shop, you should wash them thoroughly before consumption, this is the safest way to ensure the coronavirus is not present on your items.
The scientist-approved statement says that dishwashers and washing machines are effective, just like disinfectants, if operated correctly. For the washing machine, this means using the warmest water setting.
The statement also states that there should be contact-free systems for customers with personal bags and cups. This would mean that customers should bag their own groceries and not hand their bags to the employer.
The organisation City to Sea is running a campaign #contactlesscoffee to try and keep the reusable coffee cup alive and safely used throughout the pandemic. They designed a four-step practice that can ensure safety for both the barista and the consumer.
The process includes:
- Customer places their clean reusable cup (lid off) on a designated tray and steps back two metres.
- The barista takes the tray with the customer's cup over to the coffee machine, extracts the coffee into a normal crockery cup or espresso cup and steams the milk, as required.
- Without touching the customer's reusable cup, the attendant pours the coffee and milk into the customer's cup, takes the tray back to the till and steps back two metres
- Customer enjoys coffee in their favourite reusable coffee cup and reduces single-use cups
Keep calm and listen to scientists
Be careful to not be sucked into exploitative marketing tactics from plastic companies who are using the fear about the pandemic to push their agendas.There is little to no scientific grounding for a lot of the information being conveyed about plastics not being safe.
The pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives. How we tackle climate change from now on relies on what we do right now. We need to make sure single-use plastics bans and future plans, like Europe's plan to ban single-use plastics by 2021, remain a key focus for our path forward. Experts are saying that the world only has 6 months to avert climate change and prevent a post-lockdown rebound of greenhouse emissions. This is our moment to make sure we are part of the positive change that needs to happen after the coronavirus crisis and plastic production plays a big part!
What can you do?
As things are opening up, start bringing your coffee cup, reusable containers, bags and other reusables to your local coffee shop or grocery store and ask them politely if you are able to use them. This is an uncertain and odd time for everyone, so don't get frustrated if they aren't up to date with the current studies, but kindly tell them that it has now been approved by over 100 scientists that reusables are safe if cleaned properly. Give them time to do their own research and adapt again. This is also a great way to support local, smaller grocery stores and coffee shops and open up a dialogue with them about this.