meEvery time you do a lateral flow coronavirus test, you throw away about 10 g of plastic. If every adult and high school student in the UK took the recommended two tests a week, more than 1,000 tonnes of rubbish would be produced every seven days. In less than a month this would fill an Olympic swimming pool.
Those of us who, prior to the pandemic, were involved in campaigns to reduce our dependence on plastic, encouraging our communities to become “plastic-free,” may feel like criticizing such consumption. Should we stop these tests, knowing what we do with the plastic pollution crisis?
Absolutely not. They are at the forefront of our ability to control the virus and help our country return to a form of normalcy. So are the countless tons of plastic used in vaccine development, production, transportation, and delivery, not to mention all the essential single-use medical consumables to help the unfortunate who end up in the hospital.
Plastic has once again proven how wonderful, versatile and life-saving a product it can be. Without him, the pandemic would be very different. However, it is very easy to forget this when stepping over the Covid waste littering our streets. Single-use face masks, surgical gloves, tiny bottles of hand sanitizer, and antiseptic wipes have become as common as cigarette butts were a few years ago.
An interesting aspect of all this is a recently identified phenomenon called “hygiene theater.” That is, individuals and companies that make sure they appear to be fighting the pandemic, but may not have much of a real effect. From repeatedly incorrectly changing single-use face masks to using disposable laminated menus in restaurants and meter-high plastic dividers between tables in noisy pubs, there has arguably been an abundance of this behavior throughout. of the various stages of the pandemic. And as we approach the big unlocking on July 19, some measures and behavior changes are likely to remain, including our desire to be personally protected and our increased reliance on takeout and online shopping, both. large plastic generators. But the question is, how can we achieve security and comfort in our post-lockdown world in a more balanced way?
The most visible symbol of the pandemic also presents us with an excellent case study of how necessary this rethinking is: face masks. A single-use disposable mask can be 10 times more harmful to the weather than a reusable cotton one. Most of us, most of the time, when we walk into stores we don’t need to wear a surgical-type disposable mask. Yet 53 million are still sent to landfills every day in the UK, which doesn’t cover all of those who make up the bulk of Covid waste on our streets.
A significant proportion of people use them because of our accepted cultural insistence on perceived convenience or convenience. We think it’s easier to pick up a disposable mask when we walk into a store than it is to remember ours, as it was once more convenient to use free plastic bags at a supermarket than to remember ours. But moving away from our reliance on single-use plastic doesn’t have to mean the end of convenience, far from it. Instead, it just means that we need to move toward “considerate expediency” – paying a little more consideration to our actions and being a little more considerate of each other and the planet.
There have been reports of an increase in takeout sales up to 600% during the confinement. This, in turn, takes a mountain of single-use plastic to the landfill. A great example of convenience considered in this sector is the Shrewsbury Cup outline, in which all the cafes in the city use the same type of reusable cup to take away. Customers pay a deposit for the cup that can be returned to any of the businesses that serve drinks. It is then washed and reused. Yes, it may take a little more effort than simply throwing a used mug in the trash, but it’s so much better for the environment. The Shrewsbury Cup scheme is part of a broader movement among increasingly environmentally conscious takeout providers to find plastic free forms of food delivery, including, for example, making deliveries in sturdy packaging that customers can take away again.
It is also little known that Amazon will reduce the use of plastic packaging in its deliveries, but you must contact customer service to request that the option be applied to your account. Hope is also provided by the increasing amount of biodegradable plastic hitting the market.
Improving plastic recycling is another area that needs investment to ensure it is efficient and viable. Less than 10% of the plastic is currently recycled and this generally degrades to poorer quality plastic. Whenever possible, alternatives to plastic should be considered. Steps are being taken to make the polluter pay, which could hold companies like Coca Cola responsible for the plastic garbage they produce. It is also clear that the traditional take-do-waste model for our use of plastic must be replaced by a more circular system, designing products and consumer processes differently.
The pandemic has highlighted the good and bad of plastic use, showing more clearly than ever that plastic consumption is all about balance. Virgin plastic waste turns our oceans into plastic soups. This was part of the message that many of us were trying to spread before the pandemic hit. Now that we are urged to “build back better” as we come out of the lockdown, let’s take the opportunity to change our thinking about plastic. Let us appreciate how wonderful a resource can be, and fundamentally understand that like all resources, it should be used wisely and not wasted.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism