Plastic Bags and The Coronavirus Pandemic

Posted by Vivian McNeil on

We are currently in month three of our watch on the dramatic unfolding of the coronavirus pandemic. We are seeing more mask wearers and plastic glove users, as the cities begin the next scary step in this crisis, that of slowly opening. People are becoming impatient and I am not describing only the patients. I hope people will be cautious and not too daring, as animals escaping from their cages. Even with the national and international unity we are having, trying to control and eradicate this deadly scrooge, there are still some citizens who are on the warpath against disposable plastics. Even certain governors are claiming the lifting of the one-use plastic bag ban is only temporary. Conservationists fear that once this pandemic is behind us, their agenda of reusable environmentally friendly bags will not resurface to any important extent. They are probably right since fear of other illnesses and the real convenience of disposables by citizens will certainly make it challenging for them to campaign for their cause. The fact that in such a short time, our air quality has improved drastically, shows that climate control is not so difficult to incorporate into our world as people used to think. 

Environmentalists should be rejoicing. The smog over Los Angeles has cleared, the ozone layer holes are closing, animals are running free in their natural environments, and carnivore hunters are staying at home. The highways are almost empty and general air pollution has plummeted.

For several weeks, now, our world has witnessed a huge reduction in pollution in every country of our globe. The canal of Venice and the water quality in rivers and other canals has vastly improved. What more can a Greenpeacer ask for?  Are they satisfied? You bet they are not! What is there to complain about? You have probably guessed it. The resurgence of the usage of disposable plastic bags. Even with the new benefits our environment has experienced in the reduction of air pollution, there is still a threat to the conservationists' battle against plastic that the fight against the coronavirus has caused. 

The plastic bag ban in several states was supposed to go into effect in March, but as fate would have it, the ban coincided with the introduction of the coronavirus pandemic to our country. It wasn’t that long ago that single use plastics were scorned and shunned. Now a much greater fear, the coronavirus, is reversing the movement away from single use plastic bags to their popular use. Since, everyone is panicking over touching and contaminating or being contaminated by any type of surface, no one would dare reuse a plastic grocery bag. Or would they? 

Surprisingly, not every person is buying into this belief. Two women environmentalists, Judith Enck and Gina McCarthy are founders of, Beyond Plastics. This is an advocacy group that is criticizing the manufacturing industry for taking advantage of the current pandemic crisis to obtain approval of the use of plastics. “This is an open license to pollute”, claims Gina McCarthy. 

The world is witnessing a great deal of biomedical wastes coming from hospitals and healthcare centers focused on treating the coronavirus. Due to the lock-down in many countries, recycling and waste facilities are not working full time. Therefore, plastic waste is not getting treated efficiently. What about the workers who work at these recycling facilities? They can be adversely affected by the very waste they are trying to recycle. Also, researchers claim that coronavirus can remain infective on plastic for a relatively long period of time. A recent study by the United States National Institute of Health, stated that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can live two to three days on plastic as opposed to only twenty-four hours on cardboard. Other viruses such as SARS and MERS can live up to nine days on plastics. A study on reusable plastic bags by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University, showed that not only can reusable plastic bags contain bacteria, but they are often not washed in the correct way by their users before reusing them. 

While most of us who do go to supermarkets, are super careful about throwing out our one-use grocery bags, environmentalists have some more creative methods of keeping safe and green at the same time. A Brooklyn based business, called, Wally Shop, is applying bulk bin concepts to online grocery selling. This innovative company is sending food staples in reusable jars that are sent back by shoppers to be cleaned and put back into circulation. According to representatives of Wally Shop, the company opened at the beginning of April, and has been endeavoring to keep up with customer demand. According to Wally Shop, there are still consumers out there who are okay with reusable packaging if social distancing is maintained. To be honest, I am even concerned when a disposable box comes near my house (not in it). I make sure to wipe off all surfaces with an antibacterial disposable wipe before letting it come into my home. Even companies that are so “natural”, like Whole Foods, are placing their fruits and vegetables in plastic bags for home deliveries. 

Of course, there is a desperate need for all types of disposables in the medical field, including, plastic gear, gloves and all types and color trash bags. Plastic gloves are also being required wear at gas stations and supermarkets. However, there are still people out there fighting against the protective and sterile advantages of disposable plastic. PPE (personal protective equipment) which includes masks, coats, eyewear and gloves are currently in massive demand for nurses, health workers and staff of hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities. Personal protective equipment is a particularly important tool in avoiding infecting healthy healthcare workers. Gloves must be changed repeatedly to avoid contamination from sick patients. As of now, there is no other material available for producing medical equipment to address coronavirus cases that would be practical in cost and usage.

 A Short History of Modern Plastics

The plastic industry began in the middle of the nineteenth century. Although plastics were used after World War I, the real surge in this industry happened after World War II. By then, plastics started to replace glass, fabric and even wood in so many of the ways we see it used today. Even though in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the soda man was still popular, plastic soda bottles were called the sanitary way to go. 

How Plastics Made

Oil is the main ingredient in plastics production. Most plastics are made from chemicals that come from petroleum (oil), natural gas, or coal. Heating these chemicals causes them to break down into molecules. Plastics can be made into almost any shape by heating them at a high temperature. The heat softens the plastic, which can then be poured into a mold. 

Oil Consumption and COVID – 19

As environmentalists cheer about the reduction of oil use during the coronavirus pandemic, the stock market and futures markets are studying the effects of this dramatic decrease. For the first time in history, on Monday, April 20, 2020, futures contracts for United States crude oil prices dropped more than one hundred percent, turning negative because of the mitigation of demand due to the coronavirus. While the oil industry was already suffering from overproduction and decline in oil prices, the pandemic caused a major hit to the oil market since people were forced to stay home and not using their cars or taking advantage of air travel. 

On April 21, oil prices reached a new low when the futures market plunged to below zero. A company called, West Texas Intermediate, stated their price for May delivery to be minus $37.63 a barrel, which meant that the oil producers would have to actually pay traders to take the oil off their hands. The storage tanks are filled right now and there is no demand for oil. 

However, some laymen may not realize that there is a largely unreported way that oil companies are ramping to cover their losses. You do not have to be a professional economist or investor to realize why. There will be a massive boost in plastic production and since oil is the most important ingredient, this may be a great time to invest in oil (when investing, always check with your broker first). 

Environmentalists claim that the coronavirus pandemic is an immediate danger, but plastic is a slow poison. The demand for plastics is at an all-time high due to the increase in throwaway rate. This means that landfills and treatment centers will need to handle the influx of plastic waste. The question is where does it all go? A plastic bag can take anywhere, from 10 to 20 years before it completely decomposes. Therefore, whatever plastic waste is produced from COVID-19, it will not be going anywhere for a while. Just as environmentalists thought they got a handle on plastics everything has seemed to fall apart. However, until the world can find a replacement for plastics which at this point is not yet viable, plastics will be around long after the coronavirus is gone.

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