The Covid-19 pandemic is significantly impacting our societies, economies and health systems. Even at this time of international crisis, however, plastic industry representatives are continuing to push a single-use agenda, making false arguments in attempts to postpone or weaken environmental legislation.

Plastic bags

Early in the Covid crisis, the US plastics industry seized the opportunity to promote single-use over reusable plastic bags, arguing that only single use plastic bags would keep consumers safe from the pandemic, making reusable and washable textile bags look bad and dangerous. Recent studies have shown that the virus can stay viable on plastics for up to three days, which is much longer than on other materials. Far from being dangerous, reusable and washable textile bags appear to be a safer alternative compared to plastic.

Arguments linking plastic with hygiene have also been seen at EU level. The European Plastic Converters association quickly pointed out that single-use plastics medical items are essential in the fight against Covid-19 and asked the European Commission to extend the deadline for the transposition of the Single-Use Plastic Directive. The European Commission dismissed this request, stressing that the Directive targets the 10 most polluting single-use plastic items on beaches and exempts medical devices.

The European Environmental Bureau has highlighted similar dubious claims in other fields, such as agriculture, chemicals and the car industry.

Using the Covid crisis as a pretext to water down or delay the implementation of EU environmental legislation is cynical opportunism. Rather than rowing back on hard-won progress, or laying the groundwork to exacerbate our environmental problems, we should seek a sustainable path out of the pandemic. Plastic pollution is an urgent threat that has already done untold damage to nature and the marine environment. Any path forward needs to focus on real science rather than industry-spun false arguments.