NATIONWIDE — The coronavirus pandemic is causing a setback for the fight against single-use plastics. People are generating more waste as they switch from eating at restaurants to takeout and using disposable masks and rubber gloves as personal protective equipment.
"Early stats and predictions show that we're generating basically an entire year's worth during the crisis in two months – in the first two months," Dianna Cohen, the co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, told Spectrum News.
Cohen says that in the last decade, there has been a big change in public opinion on the issue of reducing waste. “The momentum was tremendous in terms of policy and legislation across the United States and around the world," Cohen said. Eight states have implemented plastic bag bans; but enforcement of those bans has been limited or suspended during the pandemic.
As restaurants reopen with a new focus on safety, CDC guidelines encourage the use of plastic cutlery and paper tablecloths.
While the Plastic Pollution Coalition has its own recommendations for restaurants to reduce waste, some don't align with the CDC's current guidance. For example, while the Coalition urges bulk containers for condiments, the CDC recommends individual packets.
But other steps, like emailing customers their receipts instead of printing them on paper, or only giving out items like straws upon request, fit the CDC's guidelines and can cut down on both contact and waste.
Cohen also urges people to return to using reusable items: "What I would recommend would be the same way that we're washing our hands more often, to really think about using reusables but making sure that you've cleaned them properly, that they've been sterilized.”
For proper cleaning of reusable dishes, the CDC recommends hot water and soap, or running them through a dishwasher.
As restaurants and other businesses rethink their entire service model, Cohen urges owners to keep sustainability in mind..
"This is an incredible moment this year for us to not just think about what it would be like when we go back to normal, but understand that normal is a broken system," she said.