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Environmental Group Accuses Plastics Industry Association of Fear Mongering

Upstream Solutions, an advocacy group that fights plastic pollution, has accused the plastics industry of “exploiting” the COVID-19 outbreak to push for increased production of single-use plastics.

Even in the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis, the anti-plastics rhetoric never ceases. Upstream Solutions, an advocacy group that fights plastic pollution by encouraging bans on single-use plastics (SUPs), has accused the plastics industry of “exploiting” the COVID-19 outbreak to lobby for increased production of SUPs.

Upstream’s Miriam Gordon, one of California’s long time anti-plastics advocates who helped the Clean Seas Coalition secure 150 local bag bans and 100 foam bans and more, responded to a letter the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration, asking them to make a statement in support of the safety of single-use plastics and against bans on them.

“The plastic pollution movement is now clearly under attack,” wrote Gordon. “And we need your help in promoting the message that reusables are safe to use during this pandemic. We are appalled that the plastics industry is using the American people’s fears about the coronavirus to push for making more single-use plastic.”

Gordon then calls PLASTICS’ letter “a sleazy attempt to fear-monger in a time of crisis” in an attempt “to further their agenda of stopping bans on high-pollution plastic products while demonizing the safer, more-sustainable alternatives.” Gordon says that three studies presented by PLASTICS that claim “potential contamination of reusable bags by consumers who don’t wash them enough” can be refuted by evidence to the contrary.

Gordon cites one study funded by the American Chemistry Council showing that reusable polypropylene bags can contain bacteria, and that consumers do not wash them to prevent cross-contamination. “But the study authors didn’t state that there were any health-related threats posed by the types of and levels of bacteria in the reusable bags,” wrote Gordon.

What Gordon doesn’t state is that since plastic bag bans have been enacted, it has been noted in numerous articles that the use of reusable cloth or polyethylene non-woven bags was causing food-borne illnesses such as E. coli via cross-contamination from raw meat products and produce that were — or had been — placed in the same reusable bag.

Gordon also notes that no credible evidence that coronavirus or any other health-threatening pathogens are transferred by reusable bags or containers. She claims that all reusable food containers and dishware used in restaurants are sanitized, and that consumers are “well protected against food-borne illnesses.” While there was some controversy over the San Francisco study at that time, it should be common knowledge that raw meat products and produce should never be placed in the same bag. Failing to wash reusable bags can create food-borne contamination.

Reusable cups, containers and utensils also require ample use of resources, such as water — a valuable commodity in many parts of the country, especially in California — and energy to heat the water, along with sanitizing chemicals and soaps.

Gordon claims that SUPs threaten human health in other ways, even if those products protect from various viruses and bacteria that are ubiquitous in the environment. She points to the many “toxic chemicals used in food packaging, many of them hazardous to human health,” something she claims is not a problem with “non-plastic reusables.” The plastics industry has been through this before and scientific studies have shown that toxicity is not a problem. She encourages anti-plastics advocates to “keep the movement going.”

The plastics industry is not “exploiting” the coronavirus to promote single-use plastics any more than Upstream is using the coronavirus to bash the plastics industry and support its agenda of banning all SUPs.

Single-use plastic, which also includes many medical devices, has contributed to the health and safety of humans in myriad ways. With disposable SUPs, you don’t have to worry whether or not someone washed the cups diligently. Part of the success in fighting food-borne bacteria and viruses of various types has been our ability to reduce contamination in all areas of everyday consumer activity using plastics.

Image: Monster Ztudio/Adobe Stock

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