More than 100 health experts from 18 countries have signed a statement defending the safety of reusable coffee cups, bags, and containers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These experts include virologists, epidemiologists, emergency room doctors, and specialists in public health and food packaging safety. The statement, released by Greenpeace and Upstream — members of the Break Free From Plastic movement – assures retailers and consumers that reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene and creating contact-free options for customers’ personal bags and cups.
“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,” Charlotte K Williams, Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University and one of the signatories, told The Guardian.
“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.”
The statement follows several temporary pauses on plastic bans across the country and some bans on reusables during COVID-19.
“Public health must include maintaining the cleanliness of our home, the Earth,” said Dr. Mark Miller, former Director of Research at the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center.
“The promotion of unnecessary single-use plastics to decrease exposure to COVID-19 negatively impacts the environment, water systems, and potential food supply compared to the safe use of reusable bags, containers, and utensils.”
The statement notes that disposable products carry the same contact issues as reusables, and adds they cause additional public health concerns once discarded. It also states that household disinfectants have been proven effective at disinfecting hard surfaces, such as reusables.
The best practices urged by the experts include complying with food safety/health codes for sanitising, using additional hygienic practices during the pandemic, using contact-free systems, and ensuring that workers are adequately protected.
“It is important for businesses and governments to know that as they reopen, reusable systems can be deployed safely to protect both our environment, customers, and workers,” says Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar.
In recent weeks, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance to note that the virus does not spread easily through contact with surfaces or objects, but out of an abundance of caution for workers, experts have encouraged people to bag their own groceries and handle their own reusables during the pandemic. Despite no known cases of COVID-19 from surface contact, the CDC also published guidance urging restaurants to consider using disposables upon reopening.
“Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of conflicting information about how the virus is spread, but we now know that surfaces are not the main way we’re exposed,” says Matt Prindiville, CEO of Upstream.
“Plastic harms our health along the entire supply chain. Fortunately, the coronavirus is easily destroyed by proper washing, so restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses can still serve us using reusable items in ways that protect health without harming the environment.”