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Proliferation of Packaging During a Pandemic

By: Van Burbach PhD, PG

Environmental Consultant

The current COVID-19 health crisis has had some beneficial side effects for the environment, as well as some not-so beneficial effects. On the beneficial side, with so many people working from home and limiting non-essential travel, we are driving our cars a lot less, which is good for reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

On the negative side, the pandemic has caused a major setback to those fighting to reduce plastic waste. There has been a significant spike in the demand for single-use plastics over the last six months as people are doing more take-out than eat-in dining, and shopping more on-line instead of going to traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Also, some grocery stores are not allowing people to use reusable cloth shopping bags, so even those of us who care find it harder to avoid plastic bags.

In these trying circumstances, many of us have turned our focus on staying healthy and not contributing to the spread of the virus so that concerns about the environment have taken a back seat. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The two issues may compete for our attention, but they are not mutually exclusive. Here are a few ideas of how we can continue the fight to reduce plastic waste even during a pandemic:

  1. When you think about ordering take-out, look for restaurants that use biodegradable paper packaging instead of styrofoam cups and clamshells.

  2. Ask restaurants to not give you plastic utensils and straws if you don’t need them. If you’re taking the food home, use your own.

  3. When you shop online, look for retailers that use earth-friendly packaging.

  4. Buy concentrated products, like cleaners, or bulk products, to reduce packaging and shipping costs.

  5. If you can’t use cloth shopping bags, ask for paper instead of plastic.

  6. Save your plastic grocery bags and other thin-film plastics like popped bubble wrap and take them back to stores that recycle them.

  7. Look for places to take harder-to-recycle items like styrofoam packaging. Even if your municipal recycling program does not accept them, many such products can be recycled.

All it takes is a little mindfulness and a little extra effort to do your part. Every little bit matters. You can make a difference!

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