1. Hand Sanitizer vs Soap
Hand sanitizer is in high demand worldwide in 2020, but the 70% alcohol gel that kills bacteria and viruses (including COVID-19) often comes in a plastic bottle.
To reduce plastic consumption, consider switching to a bar of soap and warm water to wash your hands.
Bars of soap can often be found in fully biodegradable packaging, which means that the impact on the environment is significantly less than hand sanitizer.
Alternatively, you can opt for liquid soap that can be refilled so that you can reduce your plastic consumption without major lifestyle changes.
To ensure you follow the handwashing advice, the government states that handwashing is as effective as hand sanitizer in reducing the risk of getting sick.
2. Disposable Masks vs. Washable Masks
Scientists at UCL estimate that if every person in the UK used one single-use mask every day for a year, we would create 66,000 tons of contaminated plastic waste and have ten times more impact on climate change than using reusable masks.
In a hospital environment, single-use protective clothing such as masks and gloves are contaminated items, and there are systems for safe disposal requiring separation and incineration.
Surgical grade N95 respirators provide the highest level of protection against COVID-19 infection, followed by surgical grade masks.
However, there is some evidence that reusable masks perform most of the tasks of single-use masks without the associated waste stream.
Material reusable masks are a great eco-friendly alternative as long as they are washed after each use.
3. Plastic Bags vs. Material
In October 2015, the government introduced new laws to restrict the use of plastic bags in the UK.
Since then, the number of plastic bags in the UK has declined.
However, due to the coronavirus, more people have switched to disposable bags, with several states in the US completely banning reusable bags.
While the evidence is still unclear on how long COVID-19 can live on clothing, Vincent Munster of the National Institutes of Health told the BBC that the NIH speculates that “it dries out quickly” on porous materials.
General advice is not to throw away reusable bags, but to ensure that they are washed regularly and that everyone who comes into contact with them also washes their hands.
4. Coffee Cups vs. Reusable Coffee Cups
Coffee cups have been a major focus for plastic-free campaigners in recent years.
As lockdown restrictions have eased and coffee shops have begun to reopen, many are returning to disposable coffee cups to reduce the risk of contracting the virus.
Several major coffee chains, which previously accepted reusable coffee cups, have also discontinued their use due to safety concerns.
Despite widespread concerns, more than 100 scientists, doctors and academics have endorsed the judicious use of reusable containers as safe and unlikely to contribute to the further spread of COVID-19.
Reusable cups should be washed thoroughly with warm, soapy water.
5. Takeout Pint Glasses vs. #PlasticFreePints
When pubs reopened over the weekend, many turned to plastic cups to facilitate takeout orders and reduce the need for staff to touch used glasses.
As with the reusable coffee cups, if washed thoroughly, a reusable glass or cup can be a simple sustainable swap to counter the growing waste problem of the coronavirus.
Ours to Save, a global climate news platform, and EcoDisco, a sustainable events company, have created the #PlasticFreePints initiative to encourage pub-goers to use reusable alternatives instead of the typical single-use plastic on offer.