Pandemic Prompts Fears over Transition to Reusable Products

(Photo Credit: Gaelle Marcel, Unsplash)

by | Mar 13, 2020

Pandemic Prompts Fears over Transition to Reusable Products

(Photo Credit: Gaelle Marcel, Unsplash)

The coronavirus covid-19 is forcing companies and local governments worldwide to re-examine environmental strategies that emphasized reusable products such as cups and shopping bags.

This week the World Health Organization labeled the novel coronavirus a pandemic, and urged businesses and governments globally to “break the chains” of transmission. Cases in New York increased around the same time as a planned plastic bag ban went into effect on March 1.

“The ban on single-use plastic grocery bags is unsanitary — and it comes at the worst imaginable time,” columnist and contributing editor John Tierney wrote in City Journal on Thursday. Citing several research studies, he pointed to the risk of spreading viruses through reusable plastic shopping bags.

Starbucks recently announced that the company temporary stopped allowing customers to use personal cups and tumblers at its stores globally, CNN reported. The chain vowed to continue honoring the discount for bringing reusable cups and mugs; employees just couldn’t fill them.

Dunkin’ Brands followed suit, saying that they were also temporarily halting their reusable mug program. Neither chain has indicated how long the suspensions will be in place. Canadian chain Tim Hortons also delayed plans to hand out 1.8 million reusable cups as part of a new initiative.

Although the pandemic presents serious challenges to the zero waste movement, TerraCycle founder and CEO Tom Szaky told Grist’s L.V. Anderson that disposable packaging isn’t necessarily sterile. “Disposability brought about unparalleled affordability and convenience,” he said, referring to its rise in the 1950s. “What ended up happening is people got this misperception that wrapping something in plastic also made it more sanitary.”

Anderson noted that TerraCycle’s circular shopping model Loop aims to counter that perception. “Szaky emphasized that the process of rewashing Loop’s reusable packaging is ‘at the most sophisticated level washing can be,’” she wrote.

On Friday, Maryland took a step toward banning single-use plastic bags with a House vote of 95 to 38, the Washington Post reported. However, the bill has exceptions that include bags for produce, meat, candy, newspapers, and frozen food.

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