By Chris Coultas, GSWA Intern/Drew University Student
Before the arrival of COVID-19, many towns across New Jersey were working diligently to decrease their consumption of single-use plastic via municipal legislation such as the introduction of plastic bag ban ordinances. However, as COVID-19 and its impacts have raged throughout New Jersey, many have reverted to a reliance on single-use plastics to collect take-out and groceries. This has resulted in an estimated 30 percent more plastic waste compared to last year.
Recent research has indicated there has already been a drastic increase in reliance on single-use plastics due to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). For example, estimates in August indicated COVID-19 has caused a global use of 129 billion disposable face masks and 65 billion gloves every month.
How can we continue our eco-friendly efforts but still stay safe through the COVID-19 pandemic? Here are some helpful hints to try and balance safety with sustainability:
- Get out those reusables
Early on in the pandemic, many grocery stores banned the use of reusable bags out of concerns they could transmit the virus to staff. Recently, health experts have provided evidence that reusable bags and containers do not increase the risk of transmitting COVID-19. Did you know on average Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year? Legislation like the plastic bag ban has been estimated to decrease plastic bag use by 71%.
So, ditch those plastic bags at the grocery store and start bringing your reusable bags again! Don’t forget to wash your bags after each use! Most reusable bags, whether they’re made from vinyl, cloth, or canvas, can also be machine washed or hand washed and air dried. You can also spray the handles with an alcohol spray to easily disinfect them
2. Make your own mask
Did you know that the majority of disposable masks are made of plastic? Thousands of improperly disposed single-use masks have been spotted in storm drains and waterways and cause harm to wildlife. The World Health Organization (WHO) encourages the use of reusable masks arguing that they are just as effective as single-use masks without the environmental cost. You can buy reusable masks online or make them at home, just make sure they have at least two layers of fabric! Visit the GSWA website to find a guide to make your own mask. If you must wear a single-use mask, make sure you dispose it properly.
3. Get that oven going!
Due to a reduced in-person dining opportunities, many have turned to ordering out which has increased the use of single-use plastic and Styrofoam takeout containers. Supporting your local restaurants is wonderful, but while we are home, consider experimenting with a new recipe! If you’re looking for some tried and true ideas, checkout the GSWA cookbook (coming soon for purchase or download.) Have some fun with your cooking. Start a friendly competition with your family and vote on who makes the best meal. Meanwhile, when you do use takeout, ask your restaurant to minimize add-on packaging, and as an extra safety measure, spray the container’s surfaces with alcohol when you get home to insure disinfection.
4. Eliminate use of plastic gloves
In most cases disposable gloves are not even recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as best practice. When they’re not utilized and disposed of correctly, gloves can actually further the spread of germs. Studies have shown that frequent hand washing with soap for at least twenty seconds is the best way to prevent the spread of infections and decrease the risk of getting sick; and it’s way better for the environment! If that is not possible, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Save the gloves for the medical professionals who need them. If you have stocked up on boxes of gloves, consider donating them to local area health providers.
5. Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk uses less material than multiple individual small sizes using conventional packaging. When you buy in bulk, you can refill your existing containers instead of buying new ones, thereby reducing your waste. To determine how much waste you generate in your day-to-day life, conduct a waste audit and see where you can replace single-use material with reusables. Buying in bulk can also work out way cheaper, saving your pennies to donate to your favorite charity, like GSWA, instead! Who doesn’t like saving money? Bulk containers hold more product using less material, thus reducing the cost per package. Bulk purchases also require fewer trips to the grocery store, and fewer means less energy consumed. Check out the bulk aisle in your local grocery store and start saving immediately.