Zero Waste and COVID-19

Margaret Gainer, President, Zero Waste Humboldt Board of Directors

This author is not a public health nor infectious disease control expert. She is a consultant-trainer specializing in sustainable materials management and advocates for the Zero Waste method. Zero Waste Humboldt recommends that food and beverage-serving organizations, businesses, and events confer with the Humboldt County Public Health Department – Environmental Health Division staff. They are knowledgeable and helpful. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website is also a source of regularly updated information about the coronavirus.  

In October, the CDC released new guidelines to confirm what scientists have widely agreed: The coronavirus is transmitted through the air. This highly transmissible disease is airborne as droplets from a person infected with COVID-19 and even smaller “aerosols” in enclosed spaces with inadequate ventilation.

“It may also be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

Staying Safe Does Not Require Disposable, Single Use Plastics.
Unless you are a healthcare worker, concentrate on what you can do to reduce waste in your daily life.  The U.S. Food & Drug Administration emphasizes ten top actions to protect yourself, grocery store workers, and other shoppers. (  These actions include wiping down the grocery cart handle with disinfectant wipes, maintaining 6 feet or more between yourself and others, putting your mask on before you enter, and washing your hands before and after shopping. The  FDA clearly states: “Again, there is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, if you wish, you can wipe down product packaging and allow it to air dry, as an extra precaution.” This list does not include using more single use plastic bags and wrapping everything you buy in extra plastics.

The petrochemical industry has taken advantage of the public’s fears about the pandemic to promote single use plastics. There is no evidence that plastics are cleaner or safer. Research in Wuhan, China hospitals earlier this year on air and surfaces such as floors, plastic trash cans, metal sickbed handrails, cloth PPE, and air outlets indicated that floors, probably from gravity, were among the highest rate of positivity for COVID-19. In another study comparing the length of time COVID-19 remains on several surfaces, including cloth, wood, metal, paper, and plastic, plastic was the surface where COVID-19 seemed to linger the longest. Research will continue on how COVID-19 is transmitted and the steps we can take to slow the spread.  

Plan Ahead and Get Organized to Reduce Waste.

When you order from a local restaurant, tell them that you can’t accept it wrapped in plastics. Tell them you are bringing the meal home and do not need extra plastic utensils, straws, napkins, etc. thrown in the order. Most Humboldt County restaurants have not adopted backward practices of serving in disposable plastics. Brown paper bags, brown cartons and boxes for the meal work just as well and do not damage the environment nearly as long nor as badly as plastics. Voice your preference; they want your business.

During your Stay At Home time, rethink your kitchen space to reduce waste.  Glass jars with tight lids keep foods fresh longer and keep ants out better than single use cardboard, paper, and plastic packaging. Regularly wash your reusable shopping bags. Do your own kitchen science project to test accuracy of “sell before,” and “best by” food labels. Organize your cupboards and refrigerator by the foods’ age to reduce food waste. Zero Waste Humboldt is always looking for good examples of reuse, wash and refill, and return-to-the- store containers. Contact to share your ideas.