Eco-friendly reusable plastic safe to use in pandemic, say over 100 scientists dismissing fear of virus spread
To stay safe, experts recommend washing reusable items with hot water and detergent or soap
The pandemic has forced many to ditch eco-friendly reusable plastics, fearing that it could fuel the spread of Covid-19. Now, more than 100 scientists have put out a statement dispelling doubts over its safety, adding that they can be reused after a thorough cleaning.
In the recent past, plastic use is seeing a spike, from personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves to single-use shopping bags or packages. What is more, governments have relaxed restrictions on disposable plastics, allowing them to make a comeback. Shoppers have given up on fabric bags. Restaurants are refusing to accept and serve customers with reusable coffee cups. Such widespread use could worsen plastic pollution, experts have said.
Against this backdrop, 119 scientists from 18 countries are encouraging people to adopt reusable plastics bags. "Based on the best available science and guidance from public health professionals, it is clear that reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene," they wrote in a statement. The current evidence suggests that the new coronavirus primarily spreads through inhaling infected respiratory droplets, rather than through contact with contaminated surfaces.
They recommend washing reusable items with hot water and detergent or soap, followed by applying common household disinfectants. Dishwashers and washing machines also help. Maintaining hand hygiene — washing hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub — and avoiding touching the eyes, mouth, or nose are effective ways to protect yourself, they added. In grocery stores, experts have urged customers to carry their bags and workers to limit contact with the bags.
Charlotte K Williams, a professor of chemistry at Oxford University and one of the signatories, reportedly said: "I hope we can come out of the Covid-19 crisis more determined than ever to solve the pernicious problems associated with plastics in the environment. In terms of the general public's response to the Covid-19 crisis, we should make every attempt to avoid over-consumption of single-use plastics, particularly in applications like packaging."
Some experts are advising that people should adapt to the changing times sustainably. "Covid-19 has changed many of our routines, so it's great that more than 100 experts have reassured us that reusable containers can be safe for food, drinks, and other groceries during the pandemic if washed properly. More and more of us own reusable cups and bottles to cut down on throwaway plastic and protect our wildlife, seas, and rivers," Nina Schrank, a Greenpeace UK campaigner, said.
Experts have raised concerns that excess discarded plastics are likely to end up in water bodies. Humans are already responsible for dumping oceans with around 8 million tons of plastic trash every year, according to one study.
Some industries are exploiting people's fears of contamination and safety to further their business goals. "It is worrying that some members of the plastics industry are taking advantage of a climate of fear and uncertainty to actively suspend or roll back hard-won environmental measures to reduce plastic pollution. They are claiming 'an abundance of caution' as the reason to reinstate widespread use of single-use plastic bags," Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, wrote in a blog post.