Published 02 April 2020
With concerns about how COVID-19 spreads still top-of-mind, many are wondering if plastic packaging can harbor the coronavirus. Plastic packaging is also being heralded and simultaneously criticized as its use increases and changes to accommodate the current crisis.
April 2, 2020 — The coronavirus has been found to survive for varying lengths of time on different surfaces and materials. Its ability to survive on surfaces has led to many questions about the safety of plastic packaging and whether it is preventing the spread of COVID-19 or assisting it. For example, when a consumer purchases bananas in a grocery store, does the plastic bag protect the bananas or does it put the consumer at risk for contracting the virus if it is on the surface?
According to food agencies in the US and Europe, currently there is no evidence to suggest that food packaging has been a source of transmission of COVID-19. On the contrary, James Lloyd-Smith who is assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, released a study on March 13 emphasizing the virus’ viability on surfaces like plastic for many days. Thus, there continues to be much controversy over plastic packaging and the spread of COVID-19.
Despite any concerns about plastic packaging harboring COVID-19, European consumers are buying packaged goods at an alarming rate. In Italy, for example, consumer spending on packaged mandarins rose 111% in the week ending March 8, in comparison to a year ago.
There is also an increasing demand in single-use plastic items, such as stirrers and cutlery. Barry Turner, who is director of plastics and flexible packaging at the British Plastics Federation, has stated, “Items like plastic stirrers that politicians were calling for bans on now are in great demand due to hygiene considerations. For the moment, single-use plastic benefits from a hygiene point of view.”
Additionally, the Plastics Industry Association in the United States wrote a letter to the US Department of Health and Human services to emphasize that “single-use plastic products are the most sanitary choice when it comes to many applications, especially the consumption and transport of food, whether purchased at a restaurant or at a grocery store.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the debate on how to protect food safely continues. Nonetheless, it is clear that plastic has now become a major player in the COVID-19 crisis, despite the concerns over its ability to harbor the virus and its contribution to the pollution of the planet.