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The Disposable Dilemma

The Disposable Dilemma
by Laura Bickle
As we start to plan a return to in-person meeting and events, single-use plastics have fi gured prominently: wrapped individual servings, disposable cutlery and plates and plastic water bottles. It’s a scene that takes a giant step back from the environmental-friendly strides the industry has taken in the past few years.
But are single-use plastics really key to keeping attendees safe? Or are they false security at a great cost to the environment?

Best practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19 have evolved over time. At the onset, we were urged to wipe down our groceries and not use reusable bags—those practices were relaxed as scientists learned more about how the virus reacts to surfaces. “This is an airborne and droplet-transmitted disease. You’re not getting it from surfaces. So we need to act accordingly,” says Dr. Joe Vipond, interim president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). In fact, CAPE released a statement in September expressing its concern about the rise in the use of single-use plastics during the pandemic: “While providing limited prevention of viral spread, single-use plastics cause substantial harm to the many interconnected systems that enable planetary health.”
And there is no evidence that single-use plastics are safer than properly handled reusable substitutes. “We don’t need to choose between plastic and being safe. Reusable is OK,” says Keith Brooks, programs director at Environmental Defence Canada.

It’s also important to understand that the pandemic has not dampened attendees’ environmental concerns. “Canadians still feel strongly the pandemic is not an excuse to not fi ght climate change and reduce plastics. Eighty per cent of Canadians support plastic reduction,” says Brooks.Vipond adds that the pandemic has not changed the need to focus on the environment. “There’s no vaccine for climate change or plastic pollution. We do have a solution but it’s not a vaccine, it’s moving forward with laws and recommendations. We can’t let that be forgotten.”
Despite the decline in the use of water bottles at meetings and events in recent years, 1.5 billion still end up in landfi ll each year in Ontario alone. There are concerns that the infection prevention will boost that number higher, despite no evidence that disposable bottles are more effective than other options. Keith Brooks of Environmental Defence Canada offers these tips:
  • Use glass carafes and glassware.
  • Encourage everyone to bring their own refi llable water bottles.
  • If you must use plastic bottles, have a designated bin and make sure they get recycled.
  • Again, if you must use plastic bottles, ensure they are post-consumer ones.
  • Keep an eye on the packaging food is coming and going in.
  • Use proper plates, cutlery and glassware.
  • Make sure takeaway containers are biodegradable and not plastic.
  • Choose compostable paper packaging.
  • If you do use plastic, use recyclable options and clean it so it is actually recycled.
  • Avoid Styrofoam and black plastics.
  • Know your location’s recycling rules: Even if a container has a recycling symbol, it may not be recycled.

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