Pollution

My plastic etiquette during COVID-19

There is something about the pandemic that makes you feel protected by using single-use plastic products. I am not alone in this battle  

 
By Dinesh Raj Bandela
Last Updated: Thursday 21 May 2020
I weighed my options and carry either a reusable bag that I fancy or go empty-handed to see my ex (a plastic carry bag) Photo: Pixabay
I weighed my options and carry either a reusable bag that I fancy or go empty-handed to see my ex (a plastic carry bag) Photo: Pixabay I weighed my options and carry either a reusable bag that I fancy or go empty-handed to see my ex (a plastic carry bag) Photo: Pixabay

I have been through an existential crisis that emerged from my purchases during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and this purchasing behaviour is hard to explain to my flat mate.

I work in the waste management domain and my break-up with single-use plastic occurred just a couple of years ago. I am deeply concerned about this issue and actively advocate against its use.

I cannot, however, forget the expression on my flat mate’s face when he constantly points out my purchasing behavior.

I weighed my options and carry either a reusable bag that I fancy or go empty-handed to see my ex (a plastic carry bag). I should admit, shamelessly, that plastic won this time.

There is something about the pandemic that makes you feel protected by using single-use plastic products. I am not alone in this battle.

California, one of the first states the US to move towards banning single-use plastic, deferred it for six months. Brands like Starbucks — that advocate reusable cutlery — have now turned to single-use plastic. A month ago, Massachusetts and San Francisco — afraid of the SARS-CoV-2 virus — banned reusable bags.

The other thing that comes to my mind when I try finding more excuses for my increase in plastic usage is the increase in disposable masks and gloves.

My local chemist store owner claims to sell nothing less than 150 to 200 pairs of disposable surgical gloves every day. Such sales at every store adds to single-use plastic consumption, with nothing being biodegradable.

My argument here is not that we should not use single-use surgical gloves or masks, but the trade-off between the plastics we use during the pandemic and the reasons for hygiene behind it.

What scares me now is that the virus will be washed off the face of this planet through a possible vaccine, perhaps through a syringe. One single-use syringe or plastic vial for one living person on Earth means 7.8 billion additional plastics.

Considering 0.052 grams of plastic is used to contain 2 millilitre of vaccine, the additional plastic consumption may be 500 tonnes.

I have been introspecting a justification for the quantity of plastic consumption, but it is hard to find an answer from an environmental point of view. Our presence on Earth is a resource dependent or rather, a resource burden. But who am I to assign value?

The question that still remains is whether I can compensate for the harm we do to the environment during pandemic. Or am I falling into this trap by worrying about my plastic consumption, when the whole game is to survive today?

Let us try to find out how much plastic waste we add to the environment during the pandemic.

The way out that I discovered was to use my fancy cloth bag with extra precautions. I do not hand over the bag to the shopkeeper and after coming back from shopping, wash it inside-out after dipping it in detergent with lukewarm water.

I wash the bucket used for cleaning the bag with a floor / glass cleaner and then sanitise my hands. I find this to be more ethical instead of a single-use plastic bag. This also allows me to stop worrying about becoming infected as I have disposed of plastic bags.

Let us assume I have a plastic bag that carries the virus and I attempt to get rid of it. If I hand it over to a sanitation worker, I risk exposing him to an infection, with the chance of him coming back to me with the infection being high (the virus can survive on a plastic surface for 72 hours).

So, I have finally begun using my cloth bag with extra care rather than using single-use plastic bags. Now I look at my flat mate with pride over my reduced plastic consumption.

This small questionnaire tries to study the plastic usage pattern during COVID-19.

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