The Effect of COVID-19 on Single-Use Plastic

So many plastic bags

In Europe the EU intends to go ahead with the ban on all single-use plastics by 2021, but at present, plastic consumption has increased considerably due to the fear of catching the Covid-19 virus.

Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a huge increase in single-use plastic and halted, or reversed progress made against the use
of it. Here’s 7 of the reasons this has happened:

1.) There has been a massive increase in the use of personal protective equipment (PPE: gloves, masks gowns, visors etc.) which are all plastic or plastic-based. Plastic medical equipment is generally single-use and these items are often being discarded carelessly.

2.) There is evidence that the amount of plastic being recycled has considerably reduced due to the pandemic.

3.) On top of that, some members of the plastics industry are taking advantage of the fear and uncertainty around the pandemic, to push suspensions or rollbacks of hard-won environmental measures to reduce plastic pollution. They’re claiming an abundance of caution as the reason to “reinstate widespread use of single-use plastic bags”.

It is worth noting that the virus appears to be more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on cardboard or paper, so perhaps using paper bags could be less risky than plastic ones?

4.) Online shopping involves significantly more packaging, including plastic, and throughout lockdown there has been a huge spike in online shopping sales.  Many people are now also using online grocery shopping for the first time, and much more than before. With ‘click&collect’ services and home deliveries that supermarkets put everything in plastic bags! – even if I’d ordered loose fruit and vegetables. I assume this was for the speed and ease of picking and packing and maybe the belief that plastic is somehow safer?

5.) Additionally, many people are now having their food shopping done by friends, family or volunteer groups, with whom it is hard to specify how much or how little plastic packaging you would like.

6.) Local greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers have been closed, or only open for limited hours, who often offer the option of items in little plastic packaging, along with ‘plastic-free’ shops, Although some are offering a delivery service it is difficult to specify on packaging and you cannot take your own containers/bags in as I used to do.

7.) Some traders who encourage the use of your own bags, containers and refillable cups are currently not accepting them, due to the risk of these items carrying the virus. Hence an increase in single-use plastic bags, containers and bottles!

Sadly, these all feel like big steps backwards, and make the ban of single use plastic in the EU by 2021 look very ambitious. It worth being aware so you can change habits, where possible, to avoid some of these increases and still stay safe.

On the positive side though, to offset the above increases, the removal of catering on flights, cruises and in hotels will have led to a temporary reduction in single-use plastic! One small win we should celebrate.