Experts bemoan rise of plastics in fight against coronavirus
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Experts bemoan rise of plastics in fight against coronavirus

In pushback against industry claims, over 100 scientists and doctors from Israel and worldwide say reusable utensils, bags, containers safe if basic hygiene maintained

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

In this June 18, 2020, photo, Steve Picazio loads groceries into his car at Shaw's grocery store in Berlin, Vt. Vermont's ban on single-use plastic bags takes effect July 1, while some other states have postponed theirs amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)
In this June 18, 2020, photo, Steve Picazio loads groceries into his car at Shaw's grocery store in Berlin, Vt. Vermont's ban on single-use plastic bags takes effect July 1, while some other states have postponed theirs amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

More than 115 health experts from 18 countries, including Israel, signed a joint statement Sunday assuring retailers and consumers that reusable items such as utensils and containers are safe during COVID-19, in a push back against the plastic industry’s promotion of single-use plastics.

The health experts emphasize that disposable products are not inherently safer than reusables and that reusable systems can be utilized safely during the pandemic so long as basic hygiene is maintained.

The pandemic has seen a huge increase in the use of plastic thanks to items such as protective masks, gloves, face shields, overalls, dividing screens between store staff and customers, and more.

Environmental activists fear that it could set back the move away from single-use plastic for years.

Dumped plastic bottles and waste on the bank of the river Sava on World Environment Day, in Belgrade, Serbia, June 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

“Public health must include maintaining the cleanliness of our home, the Earth,” said Dr. Mark Miller, former director of research at the US National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center. “The promotion of unnecessary single-use plastics to decrease exposure to the coronavirus negatively impacts the environment, water systems, and potential food supply compared to the safe use of reusable bags, containers and utensils.”

A statement from the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, which also signed the declaration, said: “We must not allow a situation in which, when dealing with the coronavirus epidemic, we will [also] have to deal with a disposable plastic waste epidemic. Public health is not just about coronavirus. The response to the epidemic should be professional and proportionate, avoiding harm to public health by the promotion of the commercial interests of a polluting industry. “

The statement endorsed by scientists, academics, doctors, and specialists in public health and food packaging safety notes that household disinfectants have been proven effective at disinfecting hard surfaces, such as reusables. The statement follows several temporary pauses on plastic bans across the world and increased bans on reusables by shops amid COVID-19.

“It’s been shocking to witness the plastic industry take advantage of the pandemic to promote throwaway plastics and scare people away from reusable bags and other items,” said Greenpeace USA global project leader Graham Forbes. “It is crucial for businesses and governments to know that as they reopen, reusable systems can be deployed safely to protect both our environment and workers and customers. To keep people safe and protect our planet, we should listen to the best available science instead of underhanded marketing from the plastic industry.”

“Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of conflicting information about how the virus is spread, but we now know that surfaces are not the main way we’re exposed,” said Matt Prindiville, CEO of UPSTREAM, a nonprofit that fights plastic pollution. “Plastic harms our health along the entire supply chain. Fortunately, COVID is easily destroyed by proper washing, so restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses can still serve us using reusable items in ways that protect health without harming the environment.”

Israel is the second biggest per-capita consumer of single-use plastic in the world.

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