Do you ever feel like plastic is the solution to and root of all major public health crises?
Once we figured out as a society that “germs” were spread by multiple people using the same tools and surfaces, we became obsessed with single use. Where we once shared water sources in public places, we now found cups available to be used once and simply tossed aside.
In fact, Dixie Cups were first developed in 1907 by Lawrence Luellen, a lawyer in Boston, Massachusetts, who was concerned about germs being spread by people sharing glasses or dippers at public supplies of drinking water, according to the product’s Wikipedia page.
Accelerating the production of single-use plastic-based solutions to germ spreading was a growing convenience culture. Once brands realized convenience was a selling point, single-use plastic became the go to method of delivering convenience. Is it too difficult to remember your shopping bags at the store? No worries, film plastic is here for you. Would you pay for the ability to not have to wash a water glass? Boom – water served in toss-away plastic.
Today, in a global pandemic, we have once again seen a rise in single-use plastic to help us combat a public health concern. Masks, wipes, gloves, face shields, are, for the most part, all synthetic polymer based materials that were not prevalent in the municipal waste stream and now they are. Grocery aisles that were once warm with bulk goods are now sterile with single use plastic. There are good reasons for these hasty changes but how will we reverse the flow of the river of plastic once we’ve already settled into the convenience of it?
The answer must lie in both societal awareness and subsequent change. This change should be propelled by modern technology and infrastructure to support a closed loop society. In the short term, plastic is saving our lives but in the long term it is killing what gives us life. All solutions must be on the table and all minds must be open as new data emerges about how single-use plastics and public health interact as we move into a new future post-pandemic.