PLASTIC FREE JULY: THE PLASTIC PANDEMIC

July 01 2020 – Cecily Morgan

From dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice to the stark improvement of London’s air quality, we’ve all seen reports claiming that Coronavirus and its subsequent lockdowns have given nature a chance to heal and put a pause on air pollution. However, there’s one environmental plight that has ballooned during the Coronavirus pandemic - plastic pollution.

The use of single-use plastic has soared due to the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) - plastic masks, gloves, aprons, and visors have been protecting key workers’ lives. However, these essential items are creating huge amounts of plastic waste every day, worsening a problem that was at tipping point long before Covid-19 started ripping through the world.  

Unfortunately, it’s not just in hospitals that the use of plastic has skyrocketed, members of the public have also been using plastic gloves and masks to keep safe when out and about. It seems that just as the use of plastic bottles, straws, and shopping bags became taboo, the use of plastic gloves and masks became pandemic social etiquette.

Sadly, this PPE isn’t always disposed of responsibly, leading to an increase of discarded surgical masks and plastic gloves littering our streets, putting wildlife in danger and damaging water systems, not to mention the sea creatures that are harmed when PPE ends up in the ocean.  

To make matters even worse, disposability has become synonymous with safety, with many cafes now refusing to use the reusable cups that they previously encouraged, and some supermarkets discouraging the use of reusable shopping bags due to fears of cross-contamination.

Clearly the pandemic has pressed pause on the effort to eliminate single-use plastic, making this year’s Plastic Free July more poignant than ever. 

Plastic Free July is an annual event that challenges people to give up single-use plastic for the month of July, with the hope that the sustainable habits picked up during the challenge will stick with them forever. So far over 250 million people in 177 countries have signed up for the challenge, a massive achievement in the battle against plastic.

As the UK takes significant steps to ease its lockdown, we should all channel the spirit of Plastic Free July because when single-use plastic in the form of PPE must be used to protect lives, it’s imperative that we all try to cut down on it elsewhere. Small steps like using beeswax food wraps instead of cling film when prepping for socially distanced picnics and investing in some metal straws for summer cocktails will go a long way to help the planet. Changes like these will also help the small businesses that make sustainable products survive a difficult financial period, and save you money in the long-run.

Plastic will be polluting our planet long after the pandemic has passed and it’s lovely to think that when all the Covid-19 PPE is no longer needed, we could emerge into a “new normal” that is plastic-free. Let’s all help that become a reality this Plastic Free July.

For more information and tips visit the official website of Plastic Free July: https://www.plasticfreejuly.org/ 

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