At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw endless photographs of what the world would look like if humans stayed indoors. The canals in Venice became clear enough for dolphins to return. The Himalayas were seen from cities in India for the first time in decades. Pervasive smog cleared from countless mega cities. Many of us stood in awe of how quickly nature can heal without human intervention.
However, humanity also took several steps back regarding sustainability during the pandemic. The increased use of single-use masks, which contain plastic, led to increased non-recyclable waste. As more people depended upon food deliveries in lieu of grocery shopping, it produced more packaging waste. And, now that we’re seeing the end of the pandemic, negatively impacted economies are leading some governments to prioritize economic boosts over sustainability regulations.
While we saw, firsthand, how human changes can reverse human impact to the earth, we also reversed much of the sustainability progress that we had made up until the pandemic. However, it’s not all bad news. Many governments across the world have included sustainability in their COVID recovery plans, and studies have shown that sustainability regulations could actually yield a great economic gain in the long run.
Here’s how COVID affected sustainability prospects and how you and your company can take one small step today to help reduce waste.
Sustainability and post-COVID economic recovery plans
Many high-income countries have proposed sustainability strategies in their COVID economic recovery plans. In fact, the EU has placed the transition to a circular economy at the center of their plans, largely because of the Green New Deal, which was enacted before the pandemic hit. A study by Material Economics showed that this move not only benefits the environment, but it can offer great short and long term economic benefits as well.
For example, the switch to a circular economy in the EU is predicted to add up to EUR 535 billion to the economy by 2030 as well as creating numerous jobs for both skilled and unskilled workers. This latter benefit offers an element of social equity, creating opportunities for many whose opportunities are few.
However, not all governments view the long term benefits of sustainability and circularity, and they favor post-COVID policies that boost the economy over any sort of environmental benefit. ASEAN countries, for example, are poised to become the fourth largest economy in the world and maintain their focus on investing in innovation and new technologies, allowing member countries to be more economically competitive. However, in these countries, sustainability is often left to the private sector, and although sustainability does have a focus—Vietnam and Indonesia have partnered with the Global Plastic Action Partnership to reduce plastic waste—the environment is not the top priority.
Sustainability experts agree that sustainability needs to be at the center of COVID recovery plans, not just for the environment but for the economy as well. The question is whether governments will agree.
COVID resulted in increased single-use plastic waste
Due to increased deliveries, single-use masks, and medical waste, it’s estimated that the pandemic resulted in the generation of more than eight million tons of plastic waste associated with COVID. This is on top of other non-pandemic plastic waste accrued. Seventy-two percent of that plastic waste came from Asia.
While most of that plastic waste was medical and, therefore, somewhat unavoidable, this mass increase of plastic waste pushed already overwhelmed systems to their limit, and it’s estimated that 25,000 tons of it entered the ocean, beyond the tons of mismanaged plastic waste that’s leaking into the environment in other ways. If the plastic pollution problem wasn’t dire before, then it is now.
Furthermore, fear of COVID resulted in increased use of plastic bags and other single-use items. At the beginning of the pandemic, people were encouraged to ditch their reusable bags and cups for single-use plastic items believing that COVID could live on surfaces for quite some time. This rumor, fueled by the plastic industry, turned out to be false as the CDC found that it would be very unlikely for COVID to transmit over surfaces. Even so, many places banned reusable bags and other reusable items, leading to increased use of single-use plastics and reversing efforts to move toward a more circular economy.
Misinformation, fear, and increased need of medical supplies all led to an unprecedented increase in plastic waste. If we want to reverse the damage done, individuals, businesses, and governments need to take action now.
Decrease your company’s plastic footprint with reusable bags
In spite of the demonization of reusable bags at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s since been shown that reusable bags pose no more of a health hazard than any other surface or material. In fact, regularly cleaning your reusable bags or investing in antimicrobial bags may actually be a healthier option than using reusable bags.
Regardless of the health risks (or, in realty, lack thereof), the plastic pollution problem poses a much larger threat to our planet and way of life. Those who live in vulnerable communities see the reality of plastic pollution every day; plastic leaking into their households and waterways result in major health issues, both in the short and long term. But, the plastic waste problem won’t stop there, and it’s only a matter of time before we start experiencing the hazards of plastic pollution on a global level.
Offering reusable bags to your customers has a triple advantage: your company minimizes their plastic footprint, your customers see that sustainability is a priority which will promote loyalty, and you’ll enjoy a unique marketing opportunity through bag branding. Investing in reusable bags isn’t just the right thing to do for the environment, but it’s also a responsible financial choice for your company.
At bk-bags, we offer a wide variety of bag options to fit your company’s needs. Our bags are all certified by a third party, ensuring that they are ethically produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Furthermore, we boast the highest levels of durability, and you can customize your bags with your logo or another design.
Ready to take your first steps toward a more sustainable future? Reusable bags through bk-bags is that easy first gesture.