MILAN – Nearly 130 experts – including virologists, epidemiologists, biologists, chemists and doctors from 19 countries – signed a statement saying reusable coffee cups are as safe as single-use plastics providing the user ’employs basic hygiene’. The experts — along with Greenpeace USA and Upstream, both members of the Break Free From Plastic movement — note that household disinfectants have been proven effective at disinfecting hard surfaces, such as reusable cups and containers.
The call for further use of renewables comes amid mounting concerns over a spike in disposable plastic waste due to the pandemic.
Starbucks and Caffe Nero have suspended the use of reusable coffee cups in stores.
Writing in their statement to address the safety of reusable items, the experts said: “Based on the best available science and guidance from public health professionals, it is clear that reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene.
‘Single-use plastic is not inherently safer than reusables, and causes additional public health concerns once it is discarded.”
Below are the key facts to keep in mind, according to the statement.
Reusable cups are easily cleaned
Most common approved household disinfectants should be effective for disinfecting hard surfaces, including reusable items, with such surfaces being cleaned thoroughly using a detergent or soap and hot water prior to disinfection if they are visibly dirty. Dishwashers and washing machines should be effective if operated according to manufacturers’ instructions and, in the case of laundry, using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and drying items completely. Similarly, washing hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub, and then avoiding touching your eyes, mouth, or nose are effective ways to protect yourself. ’
Best practices for reusable products in the retail space
- Comply with food safety/ health codes. Within retail and foodservice, reusable plates, cutlery, cups, and napkins are governed by strict state food safety procedures outlined in health codes. Ware-washing at high temperatures with additional sanitizing procedures are standard in the industry and provide more than adequate protection against virus transmission.
- Use additional hygienic practices for COVID. The bottom line is that reusable items are safe to use when cleaned with soap and water, and there is no substitute for thorough hygiene. Retail food establishments should follow Food and Drug Administration guidance regarding retail practices and COVID-19 safety.
- Employ contact-free systems for customers’ personal bags and cups. Systems in which there is no contact between the customer’s reusable cup, container or bag and retail surface areas can protect workers and provide a precautionary approach to addressing COVID-19 transmission. For example, California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that “when customers bring their own bags, employees should be instructed to:
- Not touch or place groceries in customer brought bags.
- Ask customers to leave their own bags in the shopping cart.
- Ask customers to bag their own groceries
Ensure that workers are protected. In addition to investing in safe and accessible reusable systems, other steps retailers can take to protect workers include providing PPE, paid sick leave, reduced occupancy in stores, and requiring customers to wear masks and practice social distancing. Customers should handle their own reusable items when going to shops and stores.