We’ve all opened a new medicine and had tear off the seal to get into the bottle. This packaging requirement began as a mandate by the FDA in 1983 when they realized people could contaminate medicine sitting on the shelf. From there, the law reached new heights as the science of medicine and types sold skyrocketed in an effort to keep people healthy and safe. Now, in the midst of COVID-19, we’re seeing a resurgence in protecting food from outside contaminants as individually wrapped items are reintroduced as the norm. Sealing a food product in plastic is the new tamper-evident caps of the grocery world.
Before the pandemic struck the states, many of them were attempting to get rid of single use plastics in favor of more environmentally friendly options. Some states had banned plastics all together and other states were making decisions like eliminating plastic bags at grocery stores or replacing straws with cardboard alternatives in all the take out restaurants. Even large companies were promising to reduce their plastic footprint in favor of a healthier planet. However, all these progressions came to a screeching halt when the novel coronavirus starting decimating communities and states.
Now, it seems the world can’t get enough plastic. It’s the safe way to sell food so no germs can live on the surface and other people can’t handle it directly. Grocery stores are going back to individually packaging items instead of laying them out for consumers to grab and go. The consumption of take out food skyrocketed as restaurants were forced to close their doors to dine-in services, which meant more plastic boxes, styrofoam cups, and plastic silverware were going home with people possibly than ever before. Even initiatives to bring your own cup for refills at coffee shops and restaurants were canceled to try to curb the spread of the virus.
Even the masks that help keep people well have become a new pollutant in the pandemic era. People using disposable masks instead of reusable, washable ones might go through five or six masks a day, which all go into the garbage or are left in various places in the community. These increases in plastic consumption could be devastating to the environment in years to come.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in myriad ways, some more obvious than others. But the increase in plastic consumption due to the virus may have other deadly effects.