Plastics industry 'using coronavirus to block regulations'

Experts pen open letter demanding the government continue with bans on plastic pollution despite industry lobbying.

We should all listen to the science of plastic.

A group of the leading experts has issued a stark warning to the government in the UK over industry attempts to block new laws on plastic pollution.

Scientists, campaigners and politicians have expressed concerns about what they describe as an ill-founded faith in plastic as a weapon against coronavirus.

“As the world rushes to deal with the worst pandemic for generations, corporate lobbyists are using public anxiety about COVID-19 to promote their business agenda” they state in an open letter published yesterday.


“Ceding to their demands risks further prolonging the exposure of some of the world’s most vulnerable people to the effects of crises like climate change and plastic pollution.”

The letter has been signed by a host of scientific experts including Dr Susan Shaw, the founder  and executive director of the Shaw Institute, Professor Sascha Hooker at the University of St Andrews, and Professor Julia Stegemann from University College London.

Politicians that have signed the letter include Baroness Lister of Burtersett, Lord Hayward, Baroness Jolly, and Lord Loomba CBE. Campaigners have also backed the letter, including broadcaster Liz Bonnin.

The letter was coordinated by the Plastic Health Coalition which is supported by partners including the Plastic Soup Foundation and A Plastic Planet.


Last month the Plastics Industry Association President asked US Secretary of Health Alex Azar to reverse the plastic bag bans passed by states including New York and California.

The industry group alleged that single-use plastics represent the “safest choice” during a virus outbreak.

But in March a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that COVID-19 can remain infectious on plastic for some two or three days, compared to a day or less on cardboard, cloth or wood.

Research published in the Netherlands last year revealed too that contact with microplastics may compromise the human immune system.


Now campaigners are worried coronavirus is being used as an excuse to delay much-needed legislation on plastic.

Last week DEFRA announced it is to delay the upcoming ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds until October.

Writing in the letter A Plastic Planet co-founder Sian Sutherland said: “Only a rigid adherence to the best available science will see mankind overcome COVID-19.

“Now more than ever before world leaders must employ the same cool hard logic when it comes to protecting the environment from some of the worst excesses of big business.”

Maria Westerbos, Founder of the Plastic Soup Foundation, added: “We should all listen to the science of plastic.”

This Author

Brendan Montague is an editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from A Plastic Planet. 

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