Pre-pandemic, we cared about our habits of plastic use. Lockdown changed all that - but it's not too late to continue the fight
With all that’s been going on with the pandemic, we forgot about another killer – plastic. Pieces of it are everywhere, destroying our oceans, animals and ultimately our planet. Pre-pandemic, we cared about what David Attenborough had to say on our habits of plastic use and we pressured companies that weren’t being proactive to make eco-friendly changes. What changed our morals on plastic? A global outbreak of a deadly virus.
When lockdown was imposed, my sister and I decided to sign up to a meal prep delivery service called Hello Fresh, seeing as at-home cooking was here to stay for the foreseeable.
It would be crass to describe a category as having a good coronavirus, but clearly the meal-kit home-delivery market has been a beneficiary of an environment that has seen millions of us locked up at home.
A spokesperson from Hello Fresh says it has seen an 88 percent increase in business compared to this time last year, proving it’s been boosted in recent months by shoppers’ reluctance to visit supermarkets, as well as us having more time to cook and no restaurants to visit (until recently).
I quickly fell for the meal kits (it handles of all the menu planning and food shopping, so there’s little not to like), but I soon realised I was excusing the amount of plastic I was being sent with my love for my newly created, convenient life. The pandemic hadn’t just changed how I shopped, it had also changed how I viewed plastic.
Pre-lockdown, I would have felt ashamed repeat ordering single-use plastic. In fact, I would go as far as to say I would have stopped the orders altogether. While the company states on its website (a spokesperson didn’t reply to my direct contact) that Hello Fresh is ‘very mindful of the sustainability of packaging. We always aim to use packaging that contains recycled materials, as well as packaging that can, where possible, be recycled in order to reduce our footprint and impact on the environment’, it’s clear that when fresh groceries, meat and even store cupboard staples like mayonnaise, vinegar and dried herbs are arriving in plastic sachets and pots, there’s an issue.
But some could argue plastic has been a hero, not a villain, during the pandemic. Hello Fresh and other meal delivery services are not going to ditch their packaging now, at a time when a demand for plastic packaging is back on the rise due to its protective properties from germs, plus its ability to extend product shelf life.
Recently my sister started buying packs of plastic water bottles again because she perceives it to be more hygienic than her usual refillable water bottle. And we’re all guilty of the odd Amazon order or five, which means more material is being generated at household level.
‘The world is breathing better, objectively,’ says Tom Szaky, the founder and CEO of American recycling company TerraCycle. ‘This is the great irony – the world will breathe better but wake up to an even bigger garbage crisis.’
State of inaction
And the coronavirus outbreak has pushed the government into a state of inaction. With the main priority rightly being the limitation of the spread of the virus, the UK ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds has been delayed until at least October 2020. MPs have also lifted the charge on single-use plastic bags for online grocery delivery.
While I continue to be thankful for food delivery services, it’s pleasing to see cafes and restaurants open up across the UK – and not only because we all have a whole new appreciation for food made by pros. Food waste app Too Good To Go is kickstarting its Magic Bags (you buy surplus food – from loaves of bread to pastries and groceries – for a fraction of the price, so it doesn’t go in the bin) to help make sure restaurants’ comeback is sustainable and strong.
Jamie Crummie, co-founder of the genius app, tells me, ‘During lockdown, we all reconnected with food – whether that was by learning to bake bread from scratch, or simply making sure that we ate every last morsel in our fridge.
‘Now that we’re venturing into this ‘new normal’ it’s important that we maintain this mindset. By making small changes to how we think about waste, we can all play a part in ensuring that we emerge from the crisis stronger.’
Tonnes of plastic dumped
Away from the kitchen, the bathroom is an equally concerning place. From face wipes, sheet masks and wet wipes to plastic products galore, all in all a shocking 13 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the world’s oceans every year, estimating to kill millions of marine animals.
Positively, brands are making changes – I loved discovering that plastic-free, UK-based beauty company KinKind, which produces vegan friendly and plastic and water-free shampoo, conditioner and body wash bars – has saved 20,000 plastic bottles from British shores since January 2020.
Eco anxiety has been replaced with economic anxiety. Instead of packaging guilt, we’re hard on ourselves for not being productive with our use of excess time. But what we do in the next few years will determine the future of our world. We know the solutions to climate chaos and there’s still time to act – just.
As Tom Szaky so eloquently says, Covid-19 is showing the world is breathing better when we slow down, so I hope this encourages the environmental movement to move forward. And while I have you, Marie Claire is currently taking a stand against period plastic. We are actively supporting environmentalist Ella Daish and her campaign to #EndPeriodPlastic. This means applying pressure to brands and supermarkets to take responsibility for the unnecessary plastic they are putting into these products, by removing plastic from their period products. This includes tampons, applicators, pads, wrappers and packaging. To sign Ella’s petition, please click here.
We must not let the coronavirus crisis turn back the tide on the fight against single-use plastic.