As COVID-19 spread across the country, so did rumours that single-use plastics were safer than reusables.
Bringing my own bags into the grocery store, I was told “Sorry, I’m going to have to bag your groceries in our bags” by the checkout clerk. I was angry, but I knew it wasn't her fault, nor her policy.
People are scared. We don’t know how this virus works, and rumours that single-use plastics were safer than reusables have mostly been spread by the plastics industry. Drama.
So what’s the truth?
We’re gaining more information and it turns out we don’t need to backtrack on our mission to live a plastic-free life. According to a statement signed by 125 health experts, “it is clear that reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene.” Various studies have shown that infectious virus lasts anywhere from 1-6 days on surfaces. In every study, plastic is in the group of materials that the virus lasts the longest on. The statement continues, “Any object or surface in a public space -- reusable or disposable -- could be contaminated with the virus. Single-use plastic is not inherently safer than reusables, and causes additional public health concerns once it is discarded.”
So, wash your reusables and engage in contact-free systems to use them in public spaces.
Here are 6 reusable items you can start using again and some precautionary steps to take.
1. Grocery bags
There are contact-free options to make this work depending on the store you’re shopping at. Some grocers will let you simply bag your own groceries. For others, you may have to put the groceries back in your cart and then wheel it outside before putting them in your personal bags. Here are some good ones to invest in. If you’re on a budget, Ecobags’ recycled canvas totes are another good option.
For produce, we’ve just been avoiding the bags altogether, but if your grocer allows them, try EcoRoots’ organic cotton produce bags.
After use, toss your bags in the washing machine and dry them thoroughly, or if they can’t go in the washing machine, wipe them down with a common household disinfectant.
These have already become widely accepted as the fashion du jour -- opt for cloth face masks and leave the medical masks to the professionals. If you need to use filters, slipping one inside a cloth mask is less wasteful than using an entire disposable face mask.
3. Dishes & cutlery
Good old soap and water is effective against viruses. At home, just keep up your dish washing routine after use.
Restaurants already have strict industry standards for food safety that will eliminate viruses on dishes and utensils, so you can feel safe eating out as long as you're outside and distanced from others.
Ask about contact-free options if you’re getting coffee to go -- if you put your personal coffee cup on the counter and they fill it without touching it, that keeps the employee safe without using a disposable cup.
Picnic in a park or lunch on the go? Bring your own reusable bamboo cutlery.
4. Napkins and paper towels
Feel free to go back to your cloth napkins and dish cloths. Porous surfaces are less likely to transmit the virus, but just throw these in the washing machine between uses.
5. Water Bottle
This is probably the easiest habit to keep up because nobody has to touch it but you.
While not totally plastic-free, the self-purifying LARQ Bottle is one of our favorite reusable bottles and is great if you’re worried about bacteria and viruses.
The LARQ bottle has a UV light in the cap which kills bacteria and viruses. Don’t mistake it for a filter though -- it won’t be effective against sediment or heavy metals.
There’s some plastic and silicone in the cap but if this keeps you from using disposable water bottles and gives you peace of mind, we think that’s a good thing. We still don’t recommend sharing it without washing it though as the UV light doesn’t reach the lip of the bottle.
For a totally plastic-free option, try a soulbottle.
This is another easy thing to add back in because usually nobody is touching it but you. Get a durable glass straw plus a straw brush to keep it clean. Soap and hot water between uses and you’re good to go!
Reusables are safe to use during the pandemic -- just make sure you keep them clean and use contact-free methods when needed. Keep social distancing, wash your hands, and wear a mask. Reduce, reuse, and refuse as much as you can and you can still save the planet one day at a time.
What reusable items did you have to give up due to the pandemic? Do you think you’ll start using them again? Sound off in the comments below.
P.S. Need to clean your hands on the go? Soap and water is more effective than hand sanitizer. Grab a Soap-on-the-Go Kit -- all you need is a water bottle (or access to a tap) and you’re guaranteed a soapy clean on the road.