By Mark Peterson
Over the past months of this pandemic there are very few things in our daily lives and routines that haven’t been upended. Many of our basic habits have been thrown into question and some things we felt were important just don’t seem to carry the same weight they once did. Conversely, other things that in the past may have slipped by the wayside, easily taken for granted or not necessarily rising to the top of the to do list have taken on a newfound, or revisited significance. I mean let’s all be honest; I can’t be the only who is calling their parents and loved ones on a much more frequent basis!
One of the habits that I so dearly miss is ditching the disposables and utilizing durable items whenever possible. Bringing my trusty reusable coffee mug was comforting to me in a number of ways. The familiarity and the fit in my hand, the stickers that remind me of special times, the super insulative value allowing me to nurse my coffee for much longer and of course the one of the most important key features – the no spill lid gave me a sense of normalcy. No matter the coffee shops I patronized whether local or on an adventure in a distant place, my mug became a trusted friend reminding me of home. I miss being able to use it when I am out and about supporting one of the myriads of excellent espresso joints in this town. Pangs of guilt hit me as I toss another single use cup, to go container or add to my growing pile of plastic bags.
As time has passed and we learn more about this virus wreaking havoc on the world it is heartening to know that experts are looking beyond the effects to just health and economics but also our environment. One of those things being studied is virus transmission through reusable items like coffee mugs or shopping bags. In fact, a study from June 2020 rightly states, “Reuse and refill systems are an essential part of addressing the plastic pollution crisis and moving away from a fossil fuel-based economy. They can create jobs and help build local economies.”
This study conducted and reviewed by more than 100 scientists from 18 countries, including epidemiologists, virologists, biologists, chemists and doctors, published a statement confirming that reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene. Disposable items are no safer and also cause additional public health concerns once discarded. Personally, I have a lot more confidence that my reusable water bottle, touched by only my hands, is not contaminated with COVID -19, as opposed to say a disposable water bottle that has been shipped, unpacked, stocked on a shelf, handled by who knows how many prospective buyers before going across a grocery store checkout station.
The CDC has issued guidance for how we can return to reusable items with common sense and easily employed practices. “Systems in which there is no contact between the customer’s reusable cup, container or bag and retail surface areas can protect workers and provide a precautionary approach to addressing COVID-19 transmission. For example, California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that “when customers bring their own bags, employees should be instructed to: Not touch or place groceries in customer brought bags. Ask customers to leave their own bags in the shopping cart. Ask customers to bag their own groceries.” Seems simple enough and in a small sort of way a bit of a return to normalcy. Consider me hopeful that soon enough we can all get a bit of comfort and normalcy from the return to our favorite reusables.