For many of us in the sustainability field, we are aware that one of the environmental impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic has been an alarming increase in single-use plastic usage. Two primary sources for this increase are takeout containers and personal protective equipment (PPE).
What can practitioners do about these?
1. In regards to takeout containers, some municipalities may consider having their residents bring clean takeout containers to drop-off locations where they can be repurposed into filament for 3D printed PPE. This is already happening in Charlotte, North Carolina through a public-private partnership known as Envision Charlotte.
2. In regards to PPE, some of you may already be familiar with the company TerraCycle, which specializes in recycling products that are not often recycled through traditional waste streams. TerraCycle's PPE recycling program takes disposable face masks, gloves, safety glasses and other equipment and recycles them into new products such as outdoor furniture, watering cans, and storage containers. Since the pandemic, the program has expanded in order to cater to broader demand. To participate in the program, you pay for their ZeroWaste box, fill it with PPE and send it back to TerraCycle with a prepaid return label. TerraCycle is an international company, so be sure to find out if they are operating in your country.
The key to reducing waste in both of these cases is convenience. In the first case with the takeout containers, a well-known drop-off location will make it easy for people to engage in the recycling behaviour. In the second case with the PPE, doing most of the work for people (i.e. paying for the ZeroWaste box, constructing it, and placing it in an easy-to-find area) removes logistical barriers that would otherwise prevent people from reducing PPE waste.
This is just a start. If you have other ideas or you're engaged in a different program that reduces single-use plastics during this time, you're welcome to contribute to this thread.
[Source: Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing by Doug McKenzie-Mohr]