On-the-go reusables in a post-Covid world
After so much progress has been made in the past few years, it seems single-use items are making a resurgence as we emerge from lockdown. While some of this increase is justified - people's safety has to be paramount and items like PPE for front-line workers and protective shields in businesses are of course necessary, there's a real concern that the plastic industry is using Covid-19 to lobby against bans on single-use plastic.
They appear to be making progress too. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has announced it is pushing back its ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds to October 2020, and as coffee shops have started reopening they have stopped accepting reusable cups on hygiene grounds.
Combine the UK's love of coffee with many pubs temporarily operating as off licences and serving drinks in takeaway plastic cups, and you have a recipe for a massive increase in the amount of single-use plastic being used.
So is the push back against reusables on the grounds of limiting the spread of Covid-19 justified? Not according to over 100 health experts, who signed a statement affirming "that reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene". The government's own guidance for restaurants and food businesses states that resuable cups and containers can be accommodated by minimising contact between staff and customer equipment, but leaves the decision as to whether to accept reusables to individual businesses.
New Zealand, which is now effectively back to normal after containing Covid-19, is a example of what can be done. Cafes there have developed a contactless way of serving coffee to customers who bring in reusable coffee cups, meaning risk to staff is minimised along with waste. City to Sea, an environmental not-for-profit organisation campaigning to stop plastic pollution, is calling for the same to happen here and has even released this clever video showing how can work.
So while it's fantastic news that so many businesses are now able to get back to serving customers, it is my sincere hope that we can find a way to do so that balances the safety of staff and customers against the environmental cost of single-use items. It's also arguably better to use your own reusable containers - that way you're in control and know exactly where they've been!
Although the odd takeaway coffee cup or plastic drinks cup might not seem like much, it all adds up. Next time you're ordering something will you politely enquire about whether they are accepting reusables?
To give you an indication of how many single-use items we use in the UK each year, below are some statistics that I have published previously along with some of the benefits of reusable items.
Statistics on single-use items
It was estimated that each year in the UK consumers produce 10.7 billion items of packaging waste eating lunch on the go. Alongside that we used 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups, 7.7 billion water bottles and 550 million plastic bags, the vast majority of which is not recycled. Even single use items like cutlery, food containers and cups labelled as ‘biodegradable’ are not necessarily any better, as they often need to be processed in an industrial composting facility. In most stores these items aren’t separated from other waste, meaning it’s unlikely they are ever composted - and even if they are vast quantities of energy is required.
Benefits of reusables
Not only do you help the environment by producing less waste, you also save yourself money! Here’s how:
No more buying bottled water - by carrying around a reusable water bottle you can get free refills at thousands of locations around the UK. Just visit Refill to find out more.
Get cheaper coffee by using your own cup - Paul, Pret and Pure all offer 50p off for anyone bringing their own cup, with Costa and Starbucks offering a 25p discount, Greggs 20p and Caffe Nero double rewards. Many of the independent stores do the same so it always pays to ask.
Supermarkets are now required to charge for plastic bags - by carrying your own you won’t have to pay for plastic bags to take your groceries home!
So why not buy reusable items - they may cost a little more initially but you’ll save money and reduce waste in the long run!
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