Some retailers have temporarily stopped consumers from using reusable containers during the Covid-19 pandemic due to fears they could spread the virus


Experts say that reusable containers can safely be used by retailers so long as they are cleaned thoroughly (Credit: Pixabay)

More than 100 academics, scientists and doctors have come together to tell retailers and consumers that reusable containers are safe to use during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has triggered discussion about how to ensure the safety of reusable systems in a public health crisis, with some retailers suspending their refill schemes.

A statement, signed by 119 experts made up of virologists, epidemiologists, biologists, chemists, and doctors from 18 countries, says that reusable systems can be safely used with basic hygiene measures.


Disposable products present similar Covid-19 risks as reusables, say experts

In March, scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UCLA and Princeton University looked at how long Covid-19 lasts on certain materials.

Conducted for the US National Institutes for Health, it found that the virus can last for two or three days on plastic and stainless steel.

The study also discovered it was detectable for up to four hours on copper and 24 hours on cardboard.

Based on these findings, signatories to the reusable packaging statement say people can assume that any object or surface in a public space — regardless of whether it’s reusable or disposable — could be contaminated with the virus.

It went on to say that single-use plastic is not inherently safer than reusables, and can also cause additional public health concerns once it’s discarded.

The statement also says that, based upon the best available evidence, the virus primarily spreads from inhaling aerosolised droplets, rather than through contact with surfaces.

reusable containers Covid-19
It’s estimated that Covid-19 can last up to three days on stainless steel items (Credit: Pixabay)

The latest findings from the CDC says that the virus is thought to be mainly spread from person-to-person.

This typically occurs between individuals that are in close contact with one another through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.

The CDC does go on to say that it may be possible that a person could get Covid-19 by touching surfaces before touching their mouth, nose or eyes, however, it’s not thought to be the main route of transmission.

One of the report’s signatories, University of Oxford chemistry professor Charlotte Williams, said: “I hope we can come out of the Covid-19 crisis more determined than ever to solve the pernicious problems associated with plastics in the environment.

“In terms of the general public’s response to the Covid crisis, we should make every attempt to avoid over-consumption of single-use plastics, particularly in applications like packaging.”

Dr Jennifer Cole, a public health policy adviser at the Rockefeller Foundation Economic Council on Planetary Health and a research fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London, added: “I feel it is vitally important that we do not let the impact Covid-19 has had on human health be used as an excuse to further damage the health of our planet.

“Reusable cups and utensils can be washed; loose bread rolls and fruit in shops can be picked up by using the paper bag they will then be placed in, without the need for immediately discarded plastic gloves.


How to safely use reusable containers during Covid-19

In order to ensure staff and consumers are safe when using reusable products at this time, the signatories say retailers must thoroughly clean reusable items with soap and water.

Alongside this, it says warewashing at high temperatures along with additional sanitising procedures would provide more than adequate protection against virus transmission.

The statement also says businesses should follow additional Covid-19 hygiene guidance from the US’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA recommends retailers wash, rinse, and sanitise food contact surfaces, dishware, utensils, food preparation surfaces and beverage equipment after use, and to frequently disinfect surfaces repeatedly touched by employees or customers.

In addition to this, it says businesses should verify that their warewashing machines are operating at the required wash and rinse temperature and with the appropriate detergents and sanitisers.

reusable containers Covid-19
The FDA recommends retailers wash, rinse, and sanitise food contact surfaces after they are used (Credit: Pixabay)

Another recommendation outlined in the reusable containers statement is for retailers to use contact-free systems for consumers’ bags and cups.

Avoiding contact between a customer’s reusable cup, container, or bag and retail surfaces can protect workers and provide a precautionary approach to addressing Covid-19 transmission.

One example they highlight is advice given to retailers by the US state of California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

It recommends that when customers bring their bags, employees should be instructed to not touch or place groceries in them, ask customers to leave them in the shopping cart, and bag their own groceries.

The final recommendation brought forward by the signatories is that retailers must ensure that workers are protected.

Steps retailers can take include providing PPE and paid sick leave, reduce occupancy in stores, and require customers to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Consumers should also handle their reusable items when going to shops and stores.