Coronavirus Prompts Restaurants To Use Disposable Packaging, Plastic Waste Surges

Coronavirus Prompts Restaurants To Use Disposable Packaging, Plastic Waste Surges

As the country re-opens after months of lockdowns, consumers and restaurants have become more dependent on single-use plastic bags, containers and utensils due to health concerns prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Before the start of the outbreak, cities and states were making some progress on banning plastic bags, shifting away from single-use plastic — which ends up sitting in the ocean — to paper or reusable products.

But now, cities and states have delayed or rolled back those bans on plastic bags in fear that reusable products will spread disease. Many retailers are banning customers from bringing reusable bags. And municipalities are scaling back recycling operations due to health concerns. 

The surge in single-use plastic is a major blow to the fight against plastic pollution, which is projected to increase by 40% in the next decade, according to a report from the World Wildlife Fund. 

The problem is especially apparent in the restaurant industry and its increased reliance on food delivery services. Many restaurants, even those that were curbing plastic waste prior to the pandemic, are not limiting the amount of plastic involved in takeout orders. 

For instance, popular chain Just Salad was producing reusable bowls that saved more than 75,000 pounds of plastic a year. When the pandemic hit the chain, the company immediately halted the program, shuttered restaurants and pivoted to delivery and pickup — both of which meant using only disposable packaging.

“The environmental fallout is definitely real,” said Sandra Noonan, Just Salad’s chief sustainability officer.

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