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Are disposable coffee cups really safer than reusable coffee cups during COVID-19?

by Pottery For The Planet on June 15, 2022

It's been disheartening for many sustainability advocates to see a steep decline in the use of reusable cups and containers at our favourite spots to grab a caffeinated pick-me up or bite. With the outbreak of COVID-19, many believed it unhygienic and a potential risk to the safety of staff and patrons to bring their own cups and containers.

If you’ve been afraid to advocate for reusables, you’re not the only one!

Misinformation, confusion over government policy and the fear of associated health risks, are just a few reasons we’ve seen this unnecessary step backwards in changing single-use culture. It's vital for the planet however that we dispel myths, stay informed and keep making small but mighty positive changes. We’re here to give you some clarity, as well as equip you with the resources and knowledge to educate others!

  

The Science

Protecting the community from transmission is the chief priority, but there actually isn’t any science that proves disposable cups and containers are safer than reusables! In fact, 125 science and medical experts have signed a statement titled “Health Expert Statement Addressing Safety of Reusables and COVID-19” to formally agree on this.

The statement, which has also been supported by Greenpeace USA and Upstream, (an organisation devoted to tackling pollution caused by plastics), assures that circular systems and reuse aren’t more likely to spread the virus. It emphasises that reusables are essential to the health of the planet, and not a threat to the health of our own communities - making reusables a win-win!


These experts highlight that the virus is spread predominantly through aerosolised droplets and that risk of surface exposure is low. With some basic hygiene practices of patrons and staff reusables are safe!

 

 

Government Policy

With some cafes and restaurants rejecting cups and containers brought in by patrons, many assumed that, like masks, quarantine protocols and the 1.5-metre social distancing rules, that this was mandated action. The Victorian government has stated however that “there is currently no evidence to suggest there is any benefit in switching to disposables”. Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt and Environment Minister Sussan Ley have gone on to clarify that in light of this, there is no legal ban on reusables in the hospitality industry (woo!).

Our response to the pandemic need not halt our action for protecting the environment from plastic and single-use pollution. So much of the concern for reusables has come from the petrochemical industry which has leveraged fear and capitalised on it. Publications like The Health Expert Statement Addressing Safety of Reusables and COVID-19 help disprove their claims that disposable is safer and can aid us in destigmatising reusables.

With 2.7 million disposable coffee cups going into landfills daily in Australia, we can’t wait for COVID-19 to subside for us to take climate action. BYO cups/containers are both safe to use and integral to preventing pollution - so it's time we had a reusable renaissance!

That being said, while it’s not illegal to bring your reusables, some venues might decline you. It's important that we all respect one another's boundaries as we try to move through this challenging time with the tools and information available to us. Below are some tips on how you can do your bit!

 

Moving forward

So, if disposables aren't any better than reusables, what action can you take to ensure your individual and community’s safety while advocating for the planet’s?

Wash up:

When washing your reusables, standard household disinfectants, detergent and hot water are effective for cleaning according to The Health Expert Statement Addressing Safety of Reusables and COVID-19. The Australian Government has also gone on to state that the virus is “sensitive to both heat and detergents (including soap)” and that “using detergent is likely to completely inactivate any coronavirus present.” It's as easy as popping your reusables in your dishwasher!

Spread information (not germs):

Share blogs (like this one), articles or papers that help demystify the current situation and that educate others who might be confused! Look for reputable references and science-backed publications like The Health Expert Statement Addressing Safety of Reusables and COVID-19. We also love Sarah Wilson’s humorous and factual post, Yep You Can Use Your Keep Cup (on which she even consulted with the Australian Federal and State Environment Departments to write)!

Reach out:

If a cafe or restaurant near you is hesitant to accept reusables again, share informative guidelines that might help reassure them of reusable safety! Our favourites are:

 



At the end of the day, we’re in this together, pandemic, climate crisis and all! A combination of education and action will ensure we get back on top of single-use culture and pollution.

Reusables are the most planet-friendly way to get your takeaway and you can read more about why on our blog, Why Reusables? A Guide To The Most Sustainable Alternative To Single-Use Paper Cups And Plastic Containers.

References 

A cafe owner's guide to reusable foodware during Covid-19 (dine-in & takeaway)

Advice for food businesses on Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) 

COVID-19 advice and FAQs Information for EHOs and food businesses

Eco-friendly alternatives to disposable coffee cups

Greenpeace USA

Health Expert Statement Addressing Safety of Reusables and COVID-19

Upstream Solutions 

Yep, you can use a 'keep cup' during Covid-19. Here's the facts.