Single-use plastics, shopping & sustainability during quarantine

Ariahana Jones
February 20, 2020

I was finally going out to enjoy my first cup of coffee from my favorite espresso shack in town since the COVID restrictions were put in place at the beginning of March.  This previously familiar morning stop, now felt like a new experience filled with anticipation and uncertainty.  

Over half of my friends are small business owners in the small town of Leavenworth so I know that the COVID shutdown has not been easy.  Small businesses already struggle to pay high rent prices, and now the same is expected with no steady income.  The places that small business owners have created in town are more than just shops, they are community gathering spaces that would be tragic to lose.  So it’s time to support the small businesses in every way we can, through gift cards, online orders and curbside pickup.  

Thus I wait in line at the curb to support the coffee shop and treat myself to a morning beverage.  Yet I can’t shake how wrong it feels not to be able to hand over my reusable mug to be filled. 

The demand and utilization of single-use plastic has gone up dramatically across the board due to challenges and fear surrounding contamination and the spread of the virus.  Single-use plastic is an essential part of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the medical industry and other workplaces, but is the uptick necessary everywhere and how can we find the balance?

I happily receive my latte in a paper cup and decline the offer of the plastic lid, finding my own balance for the morning.  As we begin to emerge from our homes to support local businesses, we can keep sustainability a priority even with the increase in single-use plastic and take-out containers. Public health is always a priority, but there are ways to reduce waste while keeping ourselves and our families safe.   Below are a few simple ideas.

  • Create a meal plan before going to the grocery store.  This will help you be in and out of the store as quickly as possible, potentially save money and reduce waste.
  • Buy local! Locally-produced foods & goods have a lower carbon footprint because they are not transported from long distances and buying them supports farmers and makers during this critical period. 
  • If you plan to take your ‘to-go’ order home, call and request that no additional disposable cutlery be placed in the bag.
  • Follow local, state and federal guidelines and store policies. If reusable bags are not currently allowed, consider asking for your purchased items to be placed in a produce box or back in your cart so you can bag them yourself in your reusable bag outside the store.
  • Fabric reusable bags are a better choice than bags made from plastic normally, and may be even more so now as the coronavirus has been shown to last longer on plastics. Non-plastic items can also be washed thoroughly in hot water and soap.  Just as with the clothes you wear, make sure that your reusable bags are properly cleaned prior to each use.

So take a moment and breathe before you instantly purchase a single-use item. Is it really needed? The quarantine may be the perfect opportunity to become self-aware and reflect on our consumption and how it affects the world around us.