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Reusables are still safe to use during the COVID-19 pandemic

In the face of COVID-19, the world is changing in unprecedented ways. Our music scene, like other sectors, is reeling from the impacts. As a collective, we have a chance to step back, reassess, and emerge more sustainable than before. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation being spread about COVID-19, including surrounding the use of reusable products. The science is abundantly clear:  reusables are safe to use so long as they are washed properly.

Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease expert at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, reminded people recently that COVID-19 spreads mainly through coughs and sneezes in close person-to-person contact. ‘The main message [is] that this is a respiratory virus: Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, cover your coughs.’ 

Our industry has taken a leadership role to introduce sustainable reusable products and generally reduce our environmental impact - let’s not let our work go to waste. 


Reusable products in a pandemic – the facts

The Victorian government has assured the public that, ‘there is currently no evidence to suggest there is any benefit in switching to disposables.’ (Read their full fact sheet here). They advise that ‘normal washing of dishes in hot water (or better still, a dishwasher) using detergent is likely to completely inactivate any coronavirus present.’ So as long as you’re hygienic and wash your reusables (like you should do anyway), there’s a very low risk of spreading disease. 

An epidemiologist consultant for the US Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, Dr. Ben Locwin stated that, ‘You really are almost at nil risk of getting a surface contact transmission of COVID-19.’ Surfaces should still be disinfected to be cautious, but the transmission of the virus from surface contact has never been documented

There's no evidence to suggest that reusables contribute to the spread of COVID-19, and food safety regulations are specifically designed to prevent the transmission of communicable diseases - food and beverage services are one of the most highly regulated in terms of public health.

Single-use plastics aren’t cleaner, particularly when they’re compared to properly washed reusables. US non-profit UPSTREAM reminds us that single-use plastics can harbour viruses and pathogenic bacteria from their manufacture, transport, inventory stocking, and eventual use. Jessica Heiges studies reusable business models with Dr. Kate O’Neill at the University of California at Berkeley, and in a recent article asked:

How is it that an item produced tens of thousands of miles away in a factory, touched by multiple unknown personnel, shipped a great distance, and which has sat on a shelf for an undetermined amount of time is now perceived in the customer and business’s eyes as being more hygienic, compared to something that’s washed on-site at high temperatures that kills all bacteria, and it’s just handled by the barista going from the dishwasher to the beverage?


Sadly, the fossil fuel industry is working hard to re-introduce harmful single-use plastics. 

In the USA, the plastics industry has been endorsing editorials and media attention that instruct people to use plastic shopping bags and avoid reusables, increasing misinformation surrounding reusables. There’s also a commonly-cited 2011 study that investigated bacteria on reusable bags, but was actually supported by a fossil fuel and chemical industry group

We don’t want to go backwards. 

Plastic use was falling, but is now back up due to  COVID-19. Sometimes, due to isolation or medical reasons, plastic has to be used. But when it comes to reusables, we must remember that they’re still safe to use, and are incredibly good for the planet.

Obviously human health is paramount right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look after the planet at the same time. As a society we’ve shown we can make big changes quickly for the right reasons, and I’m confident that we can go back to using reusables whilst practicing good hygiene and food safety practices for a cleaner environment. - Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, Founder and Executive Director of Plastic Free July

Make sure you share and talk about accurate resources to your friends, family and colleagues, and we can emerge from this crisis greener than ever. The zero-waste lifestyle isn’t going anywhere!

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