COVID-19 Pandemic Tips You Need to Know
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging and historic time for the world. In addition to the suffering and losses, the pandemic has also been a big step backwards in the fight to reduce single use items. In the health and prevention sector there has been a surge in use of disposable surgical masks and body screens. And in the food industry an increase in single use takeaway containers. Given all this, what can we do in the pandemic to reduce wastage? read on for the top 4 sustainability tips to reduce wastage.
Tip #1 – Face Masks: for everyday use wear a reusable face mask instead of a medical mask
Case for why reusable fabric face masks are safe
The World Health Organisation recommends wearing either a fabric mask or a medical mask as protection against COVID-19. In other words reusable face masks made from fabrics are safe to wear and provide protection against COVID-19.
This is great news. Not only are fabric masks more cost effective for the frequent mask wearer. Every day use of fabric masks mean less single use type masks being consumed.
For fabric mask users the WHO has the following advice:
- Wash your mask daily
- Don’t use masks with valves
- Store your mask when not in use
- Clean your hands before you put your mask on and before (and after) taking your mask off
Case against using medical masks for everyday use
The problems with medical masks is two-fold.
- Medical masks are single use items made mostly from plastics
- Using medical masks for everyday use means less masks for medical uses – note that medical mask production increased significantly (see below)
China is the largest manufacturer of surgical masks. During the pandemic China increased mask manufacturing from around 10,000,000 units per day to 446,600,000 units per day (30 Apr 20) (Source: https://www.statista.com/). This is an incomprehensible number. Made more shocking when we add another statistic and that is 3% of plastic waste ends up in waterways and oceans (source: https://ourworldindata.org/). This means that around 13.4 million masks of the 446.6 million masks manufactured in China each day will end up in waterways and oceans – note that this is only the China manufactured masks and from a single day of mask manufacturing!
What to do if you need to wear a medical mask
There are times when you will be required to use a medical mask and for those occasions always do the following:
- Cut the elastics before you dispose of the mask. This is to prevent injury to wildlife who can get entangled and die from medical masks.
- Dispose of all masks into a waste bin which has a lid. This is to prevent light weight masks from being blown into waterways. Note: see article on converting face masks to roads (link) for effort currently underway to provide mask recycling options.
Tip #2 – Hand Washing: use soap where possible and refill your travel hand sanitiser container from a bulk container
The pandemic has been a step back in time to what we were taught in primary school – wash our hands. Although I don’t recall having to count to 20 while washing my hands nor the 6 steps in hand washing as shown below.
(Courtesy of TAFE NSW: see link)
Washing our hands for longer and more frequently can be wasteful if we keep purchasing little bottles of hand sanitisers or little containers of liquid hand soap. A few less wasteful tips are as follows:
- Refill the little hand sanitiser bottle from a large bulk container. Note: US CDC recommendation of minimum 60% alcohol: see link
- Use good old fashioned soap instead of liquid hand soap. Note: avoid antibacterial soap as normal soap works and antibacterial soap may be doing you more harm: source US FDA link
- Avoid using gloves to prevent COVID-19 as gloves add to waste (unless reusable) and are not as easily sanitised as hands (with hand sanitiser or soap)
Tip #3 – Disinfecting Surfaces: use Government approved concentrated disinfectants where needed and avoid single use wipes
One of the products that disappeared as quickly as toilet paper was antibacterial wipes. This is alarming given how wasteful wipes are when compared to rags and concentrates. It is also concerning because these wipes are not effective against COVID-19 due to COVID-19 being, well, a virus and not bacteria. There are also disinfecting wipes on the market however these products are highly wasteful.
The best approach for disinfecting surfaces is to use a concentrate such as chlorine bleach, oxygen bleach or ammonium. To date, the following lists are provided by varying governments for use in COVID-19 disinfecting:
Tip #4 – Takeaway Food and Drinks: How do we clean surfaces and reduce wastage?
I previously supplied my own coffee mug to barristers and takeaway containers, what choices do we have in the pandemic?
This is a challenging issue with most restaurants having had to close their seating and pivot to takeaway. This pivot has increased the consumption of single use plastic takeaway containers and coffee cups (for more on coffee cups see link).
The best reduce wastage approach is to ask the restaurant to supply takeaway in compostable green packaging (such as https://www.greenpack.com.au/). Provide information from this website and others to support your request. Raise the potential of trialling green packaging. Argue that this is a way to gain free advertising and more customers. If they still refuse this then take your consumer power elsewhere.
Want to know more?
- Science Direct Apr 21 paper on Environmental challenges induced by extensive use of face masks during COVID-19: A review and potential solutions https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2667010021000184
- Global Citizen article (3 Mar 21) on Converting Face Masks into Roads: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/face-masks-to-roads-rmit-university/