Is our response to COVID-19 increasing plastic waste?

One of the few upsides of COVID-19 and lockdown has been the benefits to the environment. While we all stayed at home, empty roads, limited public transport and flights at a minimum, meant that air quality improved and wildlife numbers increased in suburban areas.

But one big environmental issue has been worrying me. And that’s the increase in single use plastics and of course plastic waste.

Understandably, many businesses and institutions are having to adapt their practices to make them safe for workers and the public. We all see the need for PPE in the NHS and care homes. And as more and more shops and services are opening up, they too have had to introduce changes to keep us all safe.

Grocery deliveries have increased with most supermarkets reverting to plastic bags. Many restaurants adapted by introducing takeaway food – so more throwaway containers. Now that they are preparing to open again, the worry is that they will continue to use disposables considering them a safer option.

McDonald’s and Starbucks initially refused reusable cups even though there was no evidence of risk. It has now been established that  reusable containers are safe. But will this stance from big businesses have planted doubts and fears into customers? Will they be reluctant to return to the reusable coffee cup?

I am sure we are all very happy that hairdressers are reopening. But I am saddened by the sight of plastic visors, latex gloves and disposable gowns. It’s not really my idea of chilled pampering. I think I might stick to a home cut for a while yet. 

I have also heard of schools insisting on packed lunches being brought to school in plastic bags to be thrown away on a daily basis. That’s a lot of plastic!

I know in the USA there was an  and that the plastics industry was behind some of these bans. This is nonsense however! They are considered safe so you can continue to use a reusable fabric bag – just wash them between uses. 

I worry that some of these practices may be unnecessary. Are businesses trying too hard to allay customer fears? Is the plastics industry going to convince us that single use plastic is best?  Will decision makers err on the side of caution rather than follow the science? What if the new habits that we have learned will be hard to change. Will people’s anxiety override the actual facts? 

What do you think? What single-use plastic is necessary and what should we let go of? Have you noticed any other examples of increased plastic waste due to Coronavirus?

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