The masks of sorrow
Love them or hate them – okay, we hate them – masks have been a necessary sacrifice in our ongoing battle with COVID-19.
Different countries have had different policies and approaches but, eventually, we all ended up covering our noses and mouths with surgical, decorative or improvised coverings. Some have even used them as weird hammocks for their chins, during 'down time'.
One thing we can all agree on, is that they are not cool – not even the ‘ironic’ personalised ones with smiles or witty statements (Chris Whitty statements, if you will). For the spectacles wearer, they have been akin to walking through fog. Indeed, finding avocados in the supermarket has become a logistical nightmare of epic proportions.
But, they do save lives. They have been our unsightly salvation; our way of navigating this dystopian maze.
These days, however, there is always a hidden caveat when something is mass produced and – when the pavements and streets are strewn with discarded masks – it is hard to ignore the environmental cost of what has become a ubiquitous accessory.
One of the big problems with masks was the sudden demand, which couldn’t be outpaced by international legislation when it comes to production principles. Therefore, it quickly became a jackpot for ‘manufacturers’ who recognised it as a unique opportunity to cash in on a crisis. There has also been an imperative among every individual to keep replacing face coverings, resulting in one of the least sustainable but wholly essential items in modern history.
The impact on the environment and the economy has, thus, taken its toll. An additional 7,200 tons of medical waste has been generated specifically due to the coronavirus, and most of it is disposable masks.
One solution involves the sterilisation of regular ‘N95’ masks, allowing healthcare workers to use them more than once and, therefore, reducing costs and environmental waste by upto 75%. Although reusable masks would reduce wastage, until there is a wider cultural shift or even a ban on disposal masks which do not biodegrade the problem could reach catastrophic levels with sewage, drainage and landfill operations unable to cope.
While we are expected to reduce our mask usage in the months and years to come, the challenge for governments is to create a mask production framework, especially if we are to avoid ‘PPI floating across the ocean’ becoming the defining image of the next century.
Co-op begins reverse supply chain scheme for plastic waste
Co-op has begun Europe’s most extensive in-store recycling scheme for plastic bags and product wrapping.
The rollout of the scheme makes the convenience retailer the first UK supermarket to have fully recyclable food packaging.
The Co-op’s reverse supply chain will save up to 300 tonnes of plastic from landfill
The initiative will ensure that all of the Co-op’s own food packing is easily recyclable for customers, as they can bring the waste back to the retailer when they do their next shop.
Furthermore, the recycling units will be accessible for UK council collectors to pick up.
The Co-op estimates that 300 tonnes of plastic bags and food wrapping could be collected per year, once the bins are in place across the 2,300 stores by November.
These ‘soft’ plastics include:
- Crisp packets
- Bread bags
- Single-use carrier bags and bags-for-life
- Lids from ready meals and yogurt pots
- Biscuit wrappers
- Pet-food pouches
The Co-op leads in sustainability
In addition, the Co-op has has undertaken a number of measures to reduce its plastic waste, from removing plastic stems from cotton buds to banning microbeads from products.
“As we face into an environmental crisis, we know from our feedback that there is a universal appetite for change”, said Jo Whitfield, Co-op Food CEO. “Which is why we are making it easier for thousands of households to recycle all of their plastic food packaging. This will not only prevent unnecessary waste but also reduce plastic pollution. By offering a simple and convenient solution to an everyday issue, we believe we can help communities to make small changes, that together will add up to a big difference for our environment.”
“There’s no doubt that unnecessary plastic needs to be reduced; including bags and wrapping which is a fifth of all consumer plastic packaging”, said Helen Bird, Strategic Technical Manager from WRAP. “However, where it is necessary it is urgent to design it for recycling and ensure recycling systems are in place. It’s great to see the roll out of collections across Co-op’s stores significantly contributing to the goal of The UK Plastics Pact for all plastic packaging to be recyclable by 2025. Not only is the Co-op ensuring that the service is widely promoted, it is processing the material within the UK, demonstrating how we can build back better for the economy and environment.”
The roll-out will be supported by a nationwide, multi-channel marketing campaign – as part of a new partnership with ITV.