COVID-19 Offers a Stark Reminder of the Single-Use Mindset

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a lot about how Western society works. For example, it has served as a stark reminder of how prevalent the single-use mindset is in developed nations. If anything good can come of the pandemic, perhaps it will be a greater motivation for us to reduce our dependence on single-use items.

The Irish Times ran a piece in mid-July 2020 discussing this very topic. Contributor Sorcha Hamilton focused much of her commentary on marine litter that began washing ashore on European beaches in the weeks immediately following the easing of lockdown restrictions.

She lamented all of the plastic bottles, plastic bags, etc. making their way into the water across the continent. In one particular area in Britain, trash collectors picked up 50 tons of marine litter on just one day. As much of 85% of that litter could be traced to single-use plastic products.

Throwing Away Too Much

It is evident to anyone who stops and looks around just how much we throw away. We throw away plastic bottles that used to contain water that we could just as easily have gotten out of the tap. We throw away plastic bags, coffee stirrers, kitchen utensils, etc. And it is not just plastic.

We also throw away things like paper napkins and coffee cups. We assume that’s not such a big deal because paper biodegrades. But paper waste still consumes landfill space. It also creates the need to produce replacement products. Imagine how many trees could be saved if we stopped making paper plates, cups, napkins, and so forth.

Efforts to Reduce Waste

Pale Blue Earth is a Salt Lake City, Utah company that specializes in USB rechargeable batteries. Their batteries are lithium-ion batteries, so they offer top-of-the-line performance and reliability. One of the stated goals on the company’s website is to get customers to buy fewer batteries.

Does that make sense for a company that makes its living selling batteries? Perhaps not to you and me, but it is completely sensible to the company’s founders. One of the reasons they started making USB rechargeable batteries was to help reduce battery waste.

Literally millions of disposable alkaline batteries are thrown away in the U.S. every year. That is a lot of batteries. What if every one of those batteries were replaced by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery capable of being charged 1,000 times? If we said 10 million were thrown away originally, this now becomes 10,000.

Furthermore, lithium-ion batteries are comparatively easy to recycle. If we could convince people to buy lithium-ion and recycle when the batteries are no longer usable, we could theoretically eliminate disposable alkaline batteries from the waste flow.

It’s Time to Start Reusing

We have all endured significant restrictions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who wear face masks are encouraged to wear reusable masks that can be laundered daily. Reusable masks are not only more effective, they also reduce medical waste. It’s a start.

Unfortunately, fear of the virus has also led to some setbacks. For example, grocery chains that had previously eliminated plastic bags in favor of reusable fabric have since backtracked. They have started reintroducing plastic bags so that contaminated fabric bags are not brought into their stores.

Virus or no virus, it is time for us to start reusing more and throwing away less. The single-use mindset trades sustainability and fiscal responsibility for convenience. It is a mindset that is proving itself unworkable. The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of that.

Rechargeable batteries and reusable face masks are just the starts. What else can we do to get out of the single-use mindset?