The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

Single-use items in a pandemic: Environmentalists speak about staying safe and sustainable

Giulia Magri Friday, 22 May 2020, 08:41 Last update: about 7 days ago

During October 2019’s budget speech, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna said that single-use plastic products will slowly begin to be prohibited in Malta.

He said that the first phase will see the importation and production of plastic bags, plastic cutlery, straws and single-use plastic plates prohibited from 1 January 2021, and a year later 2022 the sale and distribution of such items will be prohibited.  The country was becoming conscious of single-use items.

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Fast forward a couple of months into 2020 and the demand for disposable wipes,  disposable gloves and masks have hit a high record. Even before the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Malta, pharmacies faced numerous panicked customers buying face masks, gloves and other such items. There has been a noticeable rise in single-use item consumption due to the fear of catching the virus, as many used masks and gloves can be seen scattered across the island and can be found even in the sea.

Some of these single use items have thus far been required, such as masks, gloves and personal protective equipment which play a vital role in protecting healthcare workers and front-liners fighting the virus, and were also used by people in general to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But this doesn’t mean that people should return to using other single-use items which perhaps were being phased out,

There are ways people can avoid waste.

On Monday evening, Prime Minister Robert Abela announced that as from today, restaurants, hair salons, and beauticians will reopen. The reopening of such establishments comes with a new set of regulations, which apart from confusion, brought about concern from local environmentalists with regard to the use of single-use items.

One of the island’s leading environmental activists, Cami Appelgren, took to social media and said that the opening of restaurants with new measures will endanger the environment. Apart from limiting table sizes to no more than six people, restaurants must also replace menus and wine lists with single-use ones and offer disposable or single-use condiments. “Nature WILL teach us a lesson. Sooner or later. Because nature WILL survive,” Appelgren wrote on her Facebook post.

Speaking to this newsroom, Appelgren said that there are a number of ways individuals can take care of the planet and stay safe during the pandemic. “We simply can’t live in a world where we produce non-recyclable single use items which are used for seconds and are then sent to a landfill for centuries. The pandemic should wake us up and we should realise that we need to change our lifestyle and do things in the right manner.”

Apart from suggesting that restaurants should be able to place the menu under a glass cover on the table, which can then be cleaned after each customer leaves, she also suggested that condiments such as ketchup and mayo be given in small cups, when clients ask for them. “Nothing should be given by default as that will reduce a lot of waste in general. Also look into how to be more sustainable; do we need plastic coffee stirrers? If so replace them with bamboo ones.”

She also said that consumers should support local shops that use environmental friendly packaging and shops which have done away with excessive packaging. “You can still use your reusable bags, and buy vegetables directly from the farmers. If you buy take-away, tell them beforehand that you don’t wish for single-use plastic cutlery, no straws and so on.”

 

Replace single-use masks and gloves with cloth masks which can be reused: Friends of the Earth Malta

Friends of the Earth Malta (FoEM) have also come up with a number of recommendations on how individuals can cut down on single-use plastic. Instead of disposable masks and gloves, people can opt for a fabric mask which can be washed and reused.

Indeed, Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci had said on this issue, that when knitting masks it is important to use "material that is 100% cotton, and when knitting the mask, one should make use of three to four layers of fabric one top of each other." 

FoEM said that “there are several crafty individuals selling masks online, which can be found on Maltapark and Facebook Marketplace. Whilst gloves can be a necessity for medical workers, the general public does not need to wear gloves.” The organisation said that people are safer using soap and water or hand sanitizer to disinfect their hands.

With regards to restaurants, management could opt for a menu or winelist which can be viewed online, instead of using single-use pieces of printed paper, the NGO said. “Or they can use blackboards that can be used to show the menu without the patrons holding these in their hands.” The organisation is concerned that restaurants might shift to disposable single-use cutlery or cups.

 “Cutlery, plates, glasses and seating should be properly cleaned after every use and restaurants should ensure their staff are washing their hands regularly and that hand washing or sanitizing facilities are available for everyone.”

“The emergence of COVID-19 virus has been linked to the destruction of natural habitats, illegal trade in wild animals and our highly mobile and consumption lifestyles based on complex global supply chains. We should take this crisis as an opportunity to review our relationship with, and dependence on, the natural world, especially in light of other ongoing crises, such as climate change and biodiversity loss. We should be focusing on ways to live more in harmony with nature; restoring ecosystems and biodiversity, ending illegal wildfire trade and factory farming and focusing on more local models of production. We are all part of nature and our lives and well-being depend on a healthy planet.”

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