06.04.20

Plastic is making a comeback.

Eli Kasmir

In recent weeks, striking images of blue skies and clear waters in places, from London to Los Angeles, and Beijing to Bangalore have dominated the news. With most of the world on lockdown, the environment is improving. Air pollution, for example, is declining throughout many major cities across the world.

Whilst this demonstrates the positive effects COVID-19 has had on the environment, the pandemic poses a considerable threat to sustainability. Single-use plastic usage is on the rise in food and drink. Supermarkets all over the globe have banned reusable shopping bags due to the increased risk of infection. Prior to the shuttering of non-essential businesses, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Tim Horton’s alongside many other corporations suspended accepting refillable mugs to reduce the spread of infection.

Obviously public health comes first. However, these are challenging times for environmental activists. 2020 appeared to be a year when meaningful plastic-use restrictions would begin to take hold. Coca-Cola Co., had targets set to reduce their reliance on plastic packaging. This month, England was to implement restrictions on plastic straws and stirrers. France saw the banning of single-use plastic cups, cutlery and plates. New York, alongside many other cities around the world, prohibited the distribution of plastic shopping bags by retailers. However, in light of the coronavirus pandemic many of these policies’ have been waived. UK Environmental secretary, George Eustice, revoked the 5p charge on plastic bags for online shoppers, and plans to further reduce single-use plastic have been put on hold due to Covid-19.

A recent report by BloombergNEF revealed that the short term worries of the sustainability industry, may in fact be valid. “Concerns around food hygiene due to Covid-19 could increase plastic packaging intensity, undoing some of the early progress made by companies,” the report stated.

It appears that single-use plastics are indeed up on the rise. More often than not, many of these items can be switched out for more sustainable choices. Using metal cutlery as opposed to plastics, or opting for tap water instead of bottled. It’s during times like these, where it’s of the utmost importance to maximise on these easy, sustainable life choices.

Once, and only once, we’ve obtained the maximum lifespan from our plastic products, we must then dispose of them in the correct way – by recycling them. This week, environment and trade bodies questioned local authorities’ decision to reduce or close domestic recycling services. There is a lot of debate regarding whether or not these should remain closed. Especially, since it potentially reduces the spread of infection. Regardless of the outcome, whether recycling centres reopen or stay closed, we as individuals’ must take responsibility and continue to recycle and care for the planet we love.

What are your thoughts? What impact do you think Covid-19 will have on sustainability, and the fight against plastics?