Break out of COVID’s single-use plastic habits

It’s almost stupidly simple to make plastic-free choices even amidst an ebbing and flowing pandemic; we just forgot how to do it.

Words Hannah Cole

The world seemed to be hitting a turning point pre-2020. Finally, it appeared plastics were a worldwide issue being taken seriously. Bringing your own coffee cup was no longer seen as a barefooted-hippie move; programmes like Green Caffeen were opting for the swap’n’go route. There was a sense of collective hope for humanity amongst those who cared to adjust their ways. 

And then, 2020. Amidst the hysteria of the Coronavirus, all waste-free movements forward were halted (for warranted reasons in most cases). The switch was immediate: KeepCups no longer accepted, and takeaway containers not welcomed for a refill. For the hardcore eco-heads, the question became, “How much do I really need my morning coffee?” as they weighed the scales of environmentalism vs. caffeine-induced alertness.

“We can do two things at once: take care of our health and reduce our impact on the environment. There is simply no excuse.”

Other single-use plastics also rose in prominence. Across the world, masks became non-negotiables — to the degree that these protective pieces now pose a genuine threat to the environment. OceansAsia, a Hong Kong-based marine conservation organisation, has predicted 1.56 billion masks will eventuate in our oceans in 2020. With an estimated 450 years to degrade, it’s a gross and lasting mess. Our microplastic problem has met a new contender. 

It’s not about giving up, laying down and waiting for the plastics to build up and eventually consume us though. Marylouise McLaws, professor of epidemiology at the University of NSW, sums it up: “We can do two things at once: take care of our health and reduce our impact on the environment. There is simply no excuse.” 

Restrictions are easing in some areas; others are seeing resurgences and repeat waves. Our lives may press forward, then step back, then 180° switch for the foreseeable future. It’s an off-beat dance we’re partaking in, but there are some things we can do to at least limit our impact in such “unprecedented” times. 

First up, the mask situation. Say farewell to the disposable, single-use surgical masks of yore and welcome in a plethora of reusable alternatives. Go designer, or find a local brand offering their own twist (like E Nolan); wash regularly and keep a few in rotation. 

The current state has welcomed back BYO coffee cups for the most part, but choosing to dine in where and when it is safe is the simplest way to reduce extra packaging. Failing that, plan a picnic meet-up instead. Bring your own summer salads, fruits and meat; pack a few mismatched crockery plates and a set of bamboo cutlery, a linen napkin here and there. It’s the lo-fi version of our wining-and-dining lives. 

Inevitably, many of us are staying in more than ever before. Fill your pantry with jars from the bulk food store instead of plastic-laden packaging. Let us repeat: fruit and vegetables come in their own skin, they don’t require any additional wrapping or bagging. Learn to cook beans (if you missed that early lockdown boat), and get savvy with your waste. If you’re really keen, start a worm farm or a backyard (balcony) compost space. The little things add up. 

For all your other household needs — cleaning products, toiletries etc. — choose the re-fillable route, where possible. Try your hand at shampoo and conditioner bars (Ethique will convert you, trust me). Go for environmentally-friendly household cleaners, like Koala Eco, that also offer bulk refill bottles or Dirt Laundry Detergent which launched a refill return programme for its aluminium pouches. 

It’s almost stupidly simple to make plastic-free choices even amidst an ebbing and flowing pandemic; we just forgot how to do it. Start with the basics and build from there. Don’t beat yourself up about the occasional unavoidable plastics, but keep going, keep moving forwards, and stay healthy out there. 

WANT MORE?