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Green Is The New Black

Reusables V Single-Use: The Covid-19 Conundrum

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Girl drinking from reusable cup

Single-use plastic companies have been pushing their position on the global market as a safer option during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the opinion of experts is convincing us otherwise.

It’s easy to go a bit crazy during these unusual times; evaluating everything we touch and feeling embarrassed when we need to sneeze in public. At the same time, we’re being bombarded with so much information from so many channels, that building a well-informed opinion is harder than ever. It’s also to be expected that in times of uncertainty and global unrest industries will fight harder to survive. And that’s where the Plastic Industry Association saw an opportunity and reached out to the US Department of Health and Human Services encouraging the promotion of single-use plastic products and the alleged health benefits.

So, is the Plastic Industry Association right?

Here’s the official stand of the CDC on virus transmission:

“According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), “The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person…between people who are in close contact with one another, through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.” ​While “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,” aerosolized droplets are the only documented method of COVID-19 transmission to date.”

In that case, are single-use plastic products safer when it comes to virus transmission?

Let’s try to think logically here. When you visit your local coffee place and buy a coffee in a single-use cup, the barista will likely touch it multiple times; when picking it up from a storage place, possibly when pouring the coffee and one more time when passing it to you. The barista would also likely touch your credit card or cash when you pay for your coffee. Every time both of you touch the same item there might be a risk of spreading the infection. Would the process be much different when using a reusable cup? It seems like the process is very similar and either way, you and the barista will inevitably touch the same items or surfaces. So what is really important is the hygiene of both parties. If your cup and hands are disinfected and clean, and the barista maintains the hygiene standards the risks shouldn’t differ.

What does the science say?

Since we are still learning about this particular strain of coronavirus new research continues to pop up frequently. Most recently, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine has confirmed that the virus remains active on plastics for up to 72 hours while on copper and cardboard for only around four hours. Recently over 100 health experts from around the world have released a statement addressing the global discussion that is taking place on reusables vs. single-use plastics. They concluded that both single-use plastics and reusables could be contaminated by the virus and single-use plastic is not inherently safer than reusables but does cause additional public health concerns once discarded. They advised that reusables when properly cleaned and disinfected will not increase your risk of infection. It was also highlighted that reusables are essential in addressing the plastic pollution crisis and create jobs while helping local communities. 

In conclusion, single-use items aren’t necessarily safer than reusables and in our opinion individually we have better control over reusables which we own, and clean ourselves. Let’s stay conscious, take care of ourselves, and not let anyone manipulate our choices.

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World traveller, fashion lover, and always full of ideas. As she learned the environmental impact of her two favourite things, largely thanks to GITNB, she continues to look for ways to improve. Whether it's shopping second hand, recycling or planting trees; she’s on it. There is no better satisfaction for her than learning and getting to the bottom of things - that’s where the passion for writing came from. She still has a long way to go in every aspect of her life, but she’s enjoying the journey.