But now, for good reasons of course, much more plastic is being used in our battle with the coronavirus, and this will continue for some time. Alongside disposable masks, there are also more surgical gloves and plastic gowns being used by social and health care staff. In some weeks more than 4 million plastic vials are needed for swab testing and think about the 120 million syringes needed for vaccinating us all with two jabs.
Some general use plastic can get recycled, but our recycling rates are still much lower than they could be. Plastic takes energy and oil to be produced, and it takes energy to be recycled, so it is always better to either re-use plastic as it is, or even better avoid its use.
There are lots of ways in which we can stop buying products made or packaged with plastic. For example, we now have plenty of alternatives to buying shampoo in single-use plastic bottles. Nearly every town has a refill shop, and plenty of health and whole food shops provide refills into reusable containers brought in by the customer. As well as shampoo, refill services are usually available for liquid handwash, hair conditioner, and many cleaning products, including laundry liquid, surface cleaner and cleaning vinegar. The more customers request refill services, the more mainstream they will become. Why not ask your hairdresser if they can offer a refill service?
The best changes you can make is to switch to alternative products that do not need to be transported or kept in plastic containers. Everything that is transported to and from the shops in liquid form is heavier than a solid alternative, that means, more energy, and therefore carbon emissions, to get the product to the shop and to your home. There has always been laundry powder packaged in cardboard boxes: this, an expert from the household cleaning industry told me, provides a much better washing quality. There have always been soap bars (strangely gone out of fashion), but now there are shampoo bars, conditioner bars, even solid massage oil bars.
So next time you are about to take a plastic container from the supermarket shelf, think if you can purchase an alternative. This is one of those examples where we do not need to stop using something to be environmentally responsible, we only have to change the way in which we purchase the product.