Industry should not exploit COVID-19 to push more plastic pollution

by Perry Wheeler

March 24, 2020

Washington, DC – As COVID-19 continues to spread, surrogates of plastics and petrochemical manufacturers have promoted fear of reusable bags in order to help industry sell more plastic. These groups, including the Manhattan Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, are financed by petrochemical refinery companies. They have misrepresented studies that show coronavirus may persist on plastic surfaces longer than other materials.

These front groups are echoing plastic company consultants and industry-funded researchers, whose studies are being re-circulated to suggest that reusable bags risk transmitting disease. This misinformation is already being used to lobby state legislatures to defeat or repeal plastic bag ban legislation and risks further confusion amidst a public health crisis.

In response, Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar said:

“Industry groups have seen this crisis as an opportunity to exploit people’s fears around COVID-19 to push their pro-pollution agendas. Even in the short term, plastic does not inherently make something clean and safe, and we should not confuse corporate public relations with factual medical research. A new study from National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA, and Princeton University scientists in The New England Journal of Medicine has indicated that the virus could be stable on plastic surfaces for as long as two to three days.

“The truth is that we don’t have all of the answers to this COVID-19 emergency yet, and for industry to use this as an opportunity to increase profits for the fossil fuel and plastics sectors is dangerous and irresponsible. What we do know is that there is no substitute for strict hygiene. Just because a material is made from single-use plastic does not make it less likely to transmit viral infections during use; in fact, plastic surfaces appear to allow coronaviruses to remain infectious for particularly long periods compared to other materials. As we all continue to practice social distancing in our own homes, our ability to shift away from disposables only becomes more clear. This should be a time for growth and progress, not fearmongering to keep the status quo alive.

“The entire lifecycle of plastic is dangerous — from its extraction to its disposal. People living in communities near refineries face elevated exposure to harmful chemicals and an increased risk of health concerns. Increased plastics and microplastics in our environment may also provide surfaces for contamination with a range of animal and human pathogens, including harmful bacteria, and allow for their wider dissemination.

“The decisions we make for our families in this health crisis should be based on science and the advice of medical professionals, not lobbyists for the fossil fuel and plastics industries. Wherever reusables are an option, it is incumbent upon all of us to do our part to protect one another by washing them thoroughly after every use. And beyond this crisis, companies must do everything possible to ensure that any and all means they use to sell their products are sanitary and protect the health of employees and customers—as well as the environment.”

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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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