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Campaigners from Everyday Plastic and Plastic Free concerned single-use plastic waste could rise in the wake of coronavirus pandemic


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Campaigners in Kent waging a war on plastic waste are concerned the effects of the pandemic may have negatively impacted their cause.

From single-use coffee cups to one-use masks and gloves, those putting time and energy into convincing people to live a more plastic-free life are worried their recycling revolution may have taken a hit.

Daniel has been on a journey to reduce plastic waste for the last few years. Photo by Ollie Harrop
Daniel has been on a journey to reduce plastic waste for the last few years. Photo by Ollie Harrop

Before the crisis many small businesses across the county attempted to go plastic free, as supermarkets made their own pledges to reduce the amount of plastic waste.

But as non-essential businesses are set to return today some fear habits could be changed due to a fear of spreading the virus.

Daniel Webb, from Margate, has been using his project Everyday Plastic to campaign against the sheer volume of the material since 2018.

During lockdown he has been encouraging households across the country to take part in his lockdown survey, where people keep track of all the plastic accumulated from their household and food items.

As more cafés plan to open in early July as per government guidelines, Mr Webb hopes traders will continue to reduce plastic waste by encouraging customers to bring their own re-usable mugs.

Starbucks Folkestone. Picture: Tony Flashman
Starbucks Folkestone. Picture: Tony Flashman

But with coffee giants Starbucks announcing back in March they would only be offering single-use cups in order to protect customers from potential Covid-19 spread, the eco-warrior is concerned businesses could slip back into old habits.

He said: "This is the problem with this pandemic, a lot of people are getting confused over the debate - single-use plastic isn't going to be the saviour against coronavirus.

"You can still use a resusable cup, there just should be a protocol in place - you hand over your cup, either the trader washes it or you do.

"There's no difference in someone touching a single-use plastic cup and handing it you, versus picking up your resuable cup."

Environmental group Greenpeace were quick to respond to the news of Starbucks temporarily banning reusable cups, stating that single-use plastics are "no less likely to transmit viral infections during use; in fact, plastic surfaces appear to allow coronaviruses to remain infectious for particularly long periods compared to other materials."

The Plastic Free Whitstable group developed their own reusable cup. Picture: Plastic Free Whitstable
The Plastic Free Whitstable group developed their own reusable cup. Picture: Plastic Free Whitstable

Mr Webb suggested an increase in plastic usage is linked to the oil market; oil makes up one of the components of single-use plastic, so when prices plummeted globally due to the pandemic, it became much cheaper for corporations to make "virgin" plastic as opposed to recyclable plastic.

He said: "The fact we are seeing a rise in single-use plastic is no coincidence, but we can still carry on doing what we're doing."

Mr Webb also thinks big coffee chains like Starbucks and Costa should set a standard for promoting reusable cups in a post-lockdown world.

The Thanet campaigner said: "All of them have a massive responsibility, they are as complicit in plastic pollution as supermarkets, Unilever and all of these big guns, but in reality I don't it's something that will be forthcoming.

"It's also a big opportunity for smaller groups and businesses to carry on, but you have to make certain adaptations to make sure everyone remains safe."

The leader of Plastic Free Tunbridge Wells is concerned that plastic gloves have also increased the use of plastic. Stock picture
The leader of Plastic Free Tunbridge Wells is concerned that plastic gloves have also increased the use of plastic. Stock picture

In another blow for the plastic campaign, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs confirmed in April that the banning of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds would be delayed until October "due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and subsequent disruption to businesses."

Liz Orr, leader of Plastic Free Tunbridge Wells, said people protecting themselves from coronavirus should be thinking about using recyclable materials instead of single-use plastic.

She said: "A lot of people are wearing masks that might look like they're fabric, but they're actually made of plastic.

"I've been out on my bike and seen them tossed in the verge, so again it's another pollutant - we want people to wear masks, but there's so many videos on how to make them from old fabric you've got in the house."

Mrs Orr described the potential move back to single-use coffee cups as a "setback."

Plastic waste has been a top priority for eco-campaigners for the past ten years
Plastic waste has been a top priority for eco-campaigners for the past ten years

She said: "If people want a coffee and go to any of the chains, they won't be able to get one unless they use one of their cups, so we've stepped back a bit.

"Those companies could at least make sure they're using the Vegware cups which would be a step in the right direction."

Vegware is a company which provides plant-based compostable packaging to the food industry.

She added: "There's nothing wrong with washing something - we don't want to get too caught up with the idea that this is a deadly virus and we can't clean clean things other than disposing of them, because you can."

The West Kent plastic campaigner will be out meeting premises that have opened again on Monday, 15 June, to give advice on how to keep operating as plastic-free as possible.

Read more: All the latest news from Thanet

Read more: All the latest news from Tunbridge Wells

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