Comment: Countering plastic propaganda against reusables

Rebecca Burgess fears that the progress made on reducing our reliance on single-use plastics and moving to reusables will be undone due to the impact of the coronavirus.

As a campaigning organisation, we’re obviously concerned about what the pandemic means for the progress made in moving away from single-use plastics towards reusables over the past 18 months.

The plastics industry is already eyeing up the opportunity and feeding on people’s fear to push its own agenda. It is determined to state that the so-called sanitation and safety qualities afforded by single-use plastics outweigh those of reusables. This simply isn’t true or responsible.

Despite what the plastic industry wants us to believe, single-use plastic is no safer. Coronavirus survives in a transmittable form on all surfaces, including plastic, and a study in The New England Journal of Medicine has indicated that the virus could be stable on plastic surfaces for as long as two to three days.

Medical experts from around the world are on the record explaining that soap and hot water are effective at killing the coronavirus. If accessible, dishwashers are more effective than handwashing because of the added benefits of high temperature and prolonged washing. So as long as your reusable is washed properly it’s not a hygiene risk. It is therefore vital that all decisions around reusables are taken on the basis of science, and not knee-jerk reactions.

For many years the plastics industry has avoided addressing how single-use items will be dealt with once they’ve been used (their so-called end-of-life). Worrying pictures of discarded disposable gloves from around the world suggests that proper disposal continues to be someone else’s problem.

It’s crucial the progress we’ve made to reduce single-use plastics in the past few years isn’t undone. Yet the decision last week to delay the ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in England by six months due to the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t look promising. I only hope the European Commission and regulators around the world will calmly and directly push back against the misinformation around reusables and base their decisions on facts. If there was ever a time to question the veracity of the plastics industry’s claims, it's now, when it is desperately trying to hold on to the market while the sky is falling in its boardrooms.

While there’s no denying we’re living through a global crisis – and this is an unbelievably difficult time for so many people – over the past few weeks we’ve also seen some of the best of humanity. People across the world are supporting each other and connecting in joyful and meaningful ways.

Rebecca Burgess is chief executive of campaign group City to Sea.

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