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Don’t let this pandemic ruin the fight against single-use plastics
The coronavirus has triggered some unexpected environmental benefits in recent days. Skies are clearing over China, Italy, and the US, greenhouse gas emissions are down, and cars are parked in driveways with nowhere to go. But there’s one area in which the coronavirus has potential to cause more environmental damage than before, and that is single-use disposable plastics.
The plastics industry is taking advantage of the current crisis to warn people against reusable bags and containers, saying they’re potential vectors for contamination and that disposables are a safer option. The Plastics Industry Association has written a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asking for them to “make a public statement on the health and safety benefits seen in single-use plastics [and to] speak out against bans on these products as a public safety risk.”
As Miriam Gordon writes for Upstream Solutions, this letter contains a great deal of misinformation. It cites a study funded by the American Chemistry Council that found reusable bags contain high levels of bacteria because users don’t wash them frequently enough. Gordon points out that the study authors “didn’t state that there were any health-related threats posed by the types and levels of bacteria in the reusable bags. They suggested that people wash their reusable bags, not replace them with single-use plastic ones.”
The letter also twists a news story to suit its purposes. Gordon says it cites “a 2012 NBC News article about a girls soccer team sickened by transmission of norovirus when one sick girl ‘spread an aerosol of the virus in a hotel room which landed on everything in the room’ – including the surface of a reusable grocery bag that tested positive for the virus. It’s not clear that this is how the team got sick. If that bag had been a disposable plastic bag, it too could have had norovirus on it.”