Over 100 health experts from eighteen countries, several of them from Africa have signed onto a statement assuring retailers and consumers that re-usable face masks are safe during COVID-19, pushing back on claims by the plastic industry.
The health experts, joined by Greenpeace USA and UPSTREAM, both members of the Break Free From Plastic movement , emphasize that disposable products are not inherently safer than re-usables and that re-usable systems can be utilized safely during the pandemic by employing basic hygiene.
“Single-use plastic is not inherently safer than re-usables and causes additional public health concerns once it is discarded. The promotion of unnecessary single-use plastics to decrease exposure to the COVID-19 negatively impacts the environment, marine life and water systems compared to the safe use of reusable face masks, containers and utensils,’’ said South African Environmental Epidemiologist Rico Euiridou.
The statement endorsed by scientists, academics, doctors, and specialists in public health and food packaging safety around the world, notes that household disinfectants have been proven effective at disinfecting hard surfaces, such as re-usables. The statement follows several temporary pauses on plastic bans across the world and increased bans on re-usables by shops amid COVID-19.
“It is shocking to learn that, in Kenya for instance, unscrupulous traders have been collecting used face masks, washing them and re-selling them to unsuspecting members of the public. The traders have taken advantage of COVID-19 to risk the lives of unsuspecting members of the public,” said Greenpeace Africa Senior Political Advisor, Frederick Njehu. “It is crucial for businesses, and governments to know that as they reopen, reusable systems can be deployed safely to protect both the environment, workers and customers. All that is needed is for proper hygiene practices to be followed.’’
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the plastic industry has worked to boost profits and demonize reusables. Pauses on plastic bans followed a significant PR push from the plastics industry, using older industry-funded research to claim that reusables are more dangerous than disposables during COVID-19.
“Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of conflicting information about how the virus is spread, but we now know that surfaces are not the main way we’re exposed,” said Matt Prindiville, CEO of UPSTREAM – a nonprofit sparking innovative solutions to plastic pollution. “Plastic harms our health along the entire supply chain. Fortunately, COVID-19 is easily destroyed by proper washing, so restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses can still serve us using reusable items in ways that protect health without harming the environment.”