More than 100 scientists from around the world this week signed a statement to reassure the public that reusable containers are safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amid concerns that the environmental battle to reduce single-use plastic waste is losing ground over fears of virus contamination, and that the plastic industry is deliberately using these fears to mount an attack on the zero-waste movement, the 119 scientists from 18 countries say reusable containers do not increase the chance of virus transmission.
The scientists say in their statement: “Reuse and refill systems are an essential part of addressing the plastic pollution crisis and moving away from a fossil fuel-based economy. They can create jobs and help build local economies. The COVID-19 global pandemic has triggered a discussion of how to ensure the safety of reusable systems in a public health crisis. 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.”
Noting that best available science suggests that the main route of virus transmission is person-to-person, the scientists say that when it comes to contact with surfaces ‘single-use plastic is not inherently safer than reusables, and causes additional public health concerns once it is discarded’.
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
The group makes a series of recommendations on how cafés and food retail businesses can minimize the risk to staff and customers, including enhanced hygiene and ‘contact-free systems for customers’ personal bags and cups’.
Charlotte K Williams, a professor of chemistry at Oxford University and one of the signatories, told The Guardian: “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 crisis, we should make every attempt to avoid over-consumption of single-use plastics, particularly in applications like packaging.”
Earlier this month, retailer Better Food partnered with plastic pollution non-profit City to Sea to create the following short video highlighting best practice for cafés wishing to revive the use of reusable cups: