Over 100 health experts from eighteen countries, several of them from Africa signed onto a statement on 22, June, assuring retailers and consumers that reusables are safe during COVID-19, pushing back on claims by the plastic industry.

The health experts  joined by Greenpeace USA and UPSTREAM, both members of the Break Free From Plastic movement  to emphasize that disposable products are not inherently safer than reusables and that reusable systems can be utilized safely during the pandemic by employing basic hygiene.

“Single-use plastic is not inherently safer than reusables and causes additional public health concerns once it is discarded. The promotion of unnecessary single-use plastics to decrease exposure to the COVID-19 negatively impacts the environment, marine life and water systems compared to the safe use of reusable face masks, containers and utensils,’’ said Rico Euiridou, South African Environmental Epidemiologist.

The statement endorsed by scientists, academics, doctors, and specialists in public health and food packaging safety around the world, 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 is shocking to learn that, in Kenya for instance, unscrupulous traders have been collecting used face masks, washing them and re-selling them to unsuspecting members of the public. The traders have taken advantage of COVID-19 to risk the lives of unsuspecting members of the public,” said Frederick Njehu, Greenpeace Africa Senior Political Advisor.

“It is crucial for businesses, and governments to know that as they reopen, reusable systems can be deployed safely to protect both the environment, workers and customers. All that is needed is for proper hygiene practices to be followed.’’ Njehu added.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the plastic industry has worked to boost profits and demonize reusables. Pauses on plastic bans following a significant public relation push from the plastics industry using older industry-funded research to claim that reusables are more dangerous than disposables during COVID-19. 

“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 sparking innovative solutions to plastic pollution.

“Plastic harms our health along the entire supply chain. Fortunately, COVID-19 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.” Matt emphasized.