Greenpeace warns of “ecological disaster” if governments force widespread disposables on restaurants

by Perry Wheeler

May 19, 2020

Statement by Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar

Washington, DC – As cities, states, and countries move toward reopening restaurants and businesses, Greenpeace USA has sounded the alarm on moving toward widespread disposables into the future. Though the Trump Administration rejected the original proposed CDC guidance on reopening the U.S., the draft recommendations included restaurants using disposable menus, utensils, and dishes. The CDC has since published a less prescriptive decision tool for how to reopen restaurants and bars. In Turkey, discussions are underway on how to reopen restaurants, and disposables are being urged as well. The country has already seen disposables included in recommendations for the hotel industry.

Across the U.S., governments and retailers have also paused plastic bans and in some cases temporarily restricted reusables. These pauses followed a significant PR push from the plastics industry, using older industry-funded research to claim that reusables are more dangerous than disposables during COVID-19. Greenpeace has urged companies and governments to allow customers to bag their own groceries in reusable bags or bring them out of the store in carts, as hand to hand contact and close proximity is the largest concern with COVID-19.

In response to increasing discussion around widespread disposables for reopening restaurants and businesses, Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar said:

“As governments look toward reopening businesses and restaurants, to require widespread single-use utensils, dishes, bags, and menus would be an ecological disaster leading to more plastic pollution, increased forest destruction, and worsened climate change. It would not protect workers or customers from COVID-19, as close proximity and hand to surface contact would continue as workers remove and dispose of throwaway foodware. Increased disinfecting practices, dishwashing, and distancing have already been urged by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent the spread of the virus and should continue to help keep everyone safe.

“Governments should not be rushing to put people’s lives on the line to keep profits flowing. Instead, they should be supporting workers and small businesses by providing the benefits needed to avoid people being forced back to work before it is safe. Our lives are more important than corporate profits.

“As small businesses around the world struggle during the pandemic, we should be making it as easy as possible for them to stay around, not forcing them to buy and use more disposables. Programs have already shown that restaurants can save money by adding dishwashers and reducing single-use plastic and waste hauling costs, and doing so can boost job creation at a time we desperately need it.

“Not only would massively increasing the number of plastic cups, plates, forks, and bags hurt the environment, it would be devastating to frontline communities near petrochemical facilities. As the fossil fuel industry continues to struggle and the world shifts toward clean energy, governments must not throw petrochemical companies a lifeline through unnecessary single-use plastic production. The same fossil fuel companies that are destroying our climate are hoping to increase profits by churning out more plastic. Plastic production hurts low income communities the most, especially the communities of color already dying at higher rates during the pandemic.

“While some disposables have inevitably increased during the current crisis, we should not be making them the norm. When the pandemic has passed, frontline communities will still face increased health risks from petrochemical facilities, our oceans and waterways will be flooded with even more plastic pollution, and the climate emergency will continue. We cannot be so shortsighted in our ‘solutions’ to the current crisis that we ignore or worsen the ones we all continue to face daily.”


Contact: Perry Wheeler, Greenpeace USA Senior Communications Specialist, P: 301-675-8766

Perry Wheeler

By Perry Wheeler

Perry Wheeler is a senior communications specialist at Greenpeace USA.

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