Our planet has had its fair share of pollution over the years. The current pandemic has given it a chance to restore some of its natural beauty, sans distractions and pollution. However, staying indoors has many of us ordering take out, and over using paper and plastic goods for its one-time-use features. We could be making the environment a lot worse with our plastic addiction.
But how did we get here? And when did it get so bad?
The U.S. developed a huge waste problem a couple years ago. Prior to 2017, China bought all of America’s discarded recycling. Years of being America’s garbage bin, they opted out of their agreement, leaving us scrambling to figure out procedures and systems to deal with our waste.
Single-use plastics grew into a huge problem, for what it does to our environment, marine life and our diets. Many states input laws, or taxes, on plastic bags to cut down waste – forcing consumers to utilize reusable bags. But as the virus gained traction, they had no choice but to temporarily reverse guidelines and give consumers all access to single-use plastics. These disposable, plastic bags simply aren’t handled as much, so there’s less uncertainty over where they’ve been.
In addition to disposable bags, individuals all over the world are consuming more plastic than ever, during COVID-19. Essentials like face masks, sanitizers, latex gloves, and disposable packaging used for take out orders have all seen a spike in production to minimize the spread of germs.
You really can’t blame people for taking extra precautions: using latex gloves to wipe down food and tossing after one use, or using a new face mask each time they go outside. It’s important to take these preventative steps, but it also poses a serious threat for a plastic-free future.
Lockdown orders have made it a lot harder for green organizations and activists to organize and make their voices heard on plastic issues. On a more personal order, sustainability practices may fall low on the priority list as individuals are focused on themselves, their families, and their health.
When Coronavirus first broke, grocery stores were wiped clean. People were buying everything from toilet paper to canned foods by the dozen and sometimes dozens. Now, four months in, the news reports purchases normalizing and consumers buying only what they need. This automatically reduced individual waste.
Plastic is the name of the game right now but we must work hard to combat all its negative side effects. Below are a few ways you can help.
- When grocery shopping in a store that’s banned reusable bags, bag your groceries yourself. Keep reusable bags in your car or on hand and put groceries directly in cart, then in reusable bags outside of the store
- Disinfect disposable bags with a disinfectant spray, or soap and water. Make sure to clean both the inside and outside of the bag, letting it air dry before reusing
- Instead of tossing plastic utensils and mugs, wash them with soap and water for a few extra uses
- Shop at bulk stores, where you have the option of buying large bottles to refill. For example, instead of buying a 16 ounce bottle of soap, you would shop at a Costco for a 50 ounce bottle of soap and fill your current bottle when out
- Support zero-waste organizations with donations