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8 tips to reduce plastic waste in Sydney during COVID-19

COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, and it's setting back our collective efforts in reducing plastic waste too. This year, the market for plastic packaging is projected to grow by 5.5%, as the consumption of surgical masks, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitiser rising at a rapid rate on a global scale.

In many places in the world, the evil plastic bags are back due to safety concerns. In California alone, there has been 500 million additional plastic bags handed out per month. In Adelaide, single-use plastic ban is delayed to help reduce coronavirus risk at restaurants and cafes. Here in Sydney, cafes and restaurants are also refusing keep cups. In May 2020, 40 shipping containers of goods fell overboard, causing hundreds and thousands of surgical masks washed up at our beautiful Sydney beaches.

Coronavirus plastic polution in Sydney

Image from Opération Mer Propre via

The amount of plastics has also brought huge pressure to the recycling industry. Before COVID-19, the nationally adopted target for recycled packaging was 70%. According ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel, with these new and unexpected trends, these targets will be even harder to hit by 2025 (source).

We understand that compromises are being made with the use of single-use face masks and hand sanitisers in higher proportions for our safety. While it isn't something we can change, there are still many other things we can do to help reduce plastic waste.

At ReCo, we are all about solutions and below are our best ideas to help you start or keep on going with you zero waste lifestyle:

1.Wear reusable masks

Globally, billions of single-use face masks are being thrown out daily. Environmentally, the better option is to get yourself a reusable alternative.

There are things you need to consider when choosing the right mask. Mask etiquette is a must-learn before wearing your mask out in the crowds! Before you make any decision, make sure you read this guide by the ABC. We need to make sure we are doing the right thing to protect both ourselves and the environment. 

2. Buy bulk sanitiser and liquid soap, or use a bar of soap

We all have our favourite products to wash our hands with and protect ourselves from COVID-19, but are they the most sustainable options? 

Using a bar of soap is the the most environmentally-friendly option to clean and sanitise your hands. It generally comes in plastic-free packaging. You only need a small amount of soapy water to cover your hands thoroughly and easily. 

If you prefer liquid soap, bulk buy if you can - it's better for your wallet long term! Refill usually comes in 1L, but if you want to go for a much bigger quantity, our product partner, SimplyClean, offers a 5L hand soap - that's x10 500ml plastic container you can save!

Hand sanitisers show evidence of working well against viruses such as COVID-19. However, they mostly come in single-use plastic bottles and require a lot to get good coverage on your hands.

3. Bulk buy pantry staples

Lots of us stock up staples during the COVID-19 pandemic - no, not talking about hoarding! Just stocking up some essentials so that we can lay low as much as possible. But you might have noticed, suddenly your pantry looks like supermarket shelves!

A simple way to reduce these packaging is just to buy in bulk. Working and living in Alexandria, we often purchase our legumes and oats from our local store Honest to Goodness, or Naked Foods in Newtown that offers plastic-free packaging.

If you are around Enmore, pop into Alfalfa House for ethical wholefoods that are packaging-free, including fresh food!

Marrickville has Village Wholefoods which also has a plastic-free bulk buy option available. They encourage you to bring your own containers to fill and are proudly single-use plastic bag free.

The Source Bulk Foods have been offering home delivery, and everything is packed in biodegradable packaging.

When purchasing bulk food, especially if it's freshly packed, check the expiry date to ensure it has a long shelf life.

Reduce your single-use plastic waste during COVID-19 with a Keep Cup

Image via Responsible Cafe

4. BYO keep cup 

While in the thick of the first wave of COVID-19 in Sydney, cafes stopped offering keep cup options for your coffee orders. Thankfully as the COVID condition eases, more cafes have begun accepting them now. If your local cafes still refuse keep cups, start a conversation with them. There are many safe ways to reduce single-use plastics.

Own a cafe? Check out this guide on safely using keep cups during COVID-19 by Responsible cafe. 

5. Reduce takeaway plastic food packaging

It may seem like you have no choice but to accept single-use plastic packaging when ordering take away food. However, some options can help you work towards using reusable packaging and avoid adding to the 'COVID waste'.

    1. Returnr is an environmental initiative to replace single-use takeaway packaging with reusable solutions. Check out their website and see if your local cafe is in their network. If your favourite coffee place isn't connected with Returnr, talk to them about this fantastic service.

    2. When using services such as Uber Eats, look out for cafes and restaurants that are labelled with 'sustainable packaging'. Our COVID food delivery partner, Cafe 0.6 in Alexandria, primarily uses biodegradable packaging, which earned them the 'sustainable packaging' label on their Uber Eats profile.

    3. Ask your local restaurant and cafe if you can bring your own lunchbox or plate to use as packaging. We have been doing this at our local sushi restaurant. It does not only reduce plastic waste, but also good for the small businesses financially as it saves their costs during such challenging times.

    6. Reduce online shopping packaging

    Online shopping is one of the most significant causes of plastic waste piling up globally. When shopping online, try and choose responsible brands that use minimal plastic packaging. 

    For fresh food options, we love Harris Farm because everything is delivered in a carton box and minimal packaging.

    For us at ReCo, we take pride in not using any plastic packaging for delivery. If we need packaging, our go-to is a small paper bag, which can be reused and recycled. We are able to do so because we are hand delivering ourselves, and we only do local delivery in Sydney CBD, the inner city, the Inner West and parts of the Eastern Suburbs. We believe staying local and nimble is the key to tackle the global environmental crisis.

    7. Find other ways to reduce plastic waste

    There are so many areas in your life where you don't realise you are using plastics. Here are some further ideas to work towards a plastic-free home:

      • Choose plastic-free dental floss. Check out some of the plastic-free dental floss alternatives suggested by Shia from Wasteland Rebel.
      • Reduce microplastics in your wardrobe. We've written some tips on how to start a plastic-free wardrobe, as part of our collaboration with Citizen Wolf. 

      8. Go plastic-free in the laundry and kitchen

      To help solve the global plastic waste problem is what inspired us to come up with ReCo. For every refill, we will save a plastic container from entering this world - not to mention it will never stay in the environment for over 400 years! Also, you help cut down the energy usage and carbon emissions from producing, transporting and recycling the plastic containers.

      We have Henri, one of our waste warriors' quote on the wall: going with ReCo is a no-brainer. It's affordable. It's a great product. It's a local business. And it helped me reduce all my environmental impacts. 

      Doing your bit to work towards plastic-free packaging and reduce single-use plastic during COVID-19 and beyond, is as simple as working through these eight waste-reducing tips. As we battle 'COVID waste', even the smallest steps can begin to make a significant impact on our environment. But we need to do it together.

      Want to do more? 

      Join us to fight the war on plastic waste 

      We are making it even easier for you to kick start your plastic-free laundry and kitchen this Plastic Free July. 

      ReCo Sydney plastic free July voucher

      For your ReCo order:

      • Use code ReCofriends5 to get $5 off (minimum spend: $30).
      • You will also receive a Citizen Wolf $25 voucher (minimum spend: $99) to get your first plastic-free, custom-made t-shirt. 
      • During COVID-19, if you shop with our COVID Food Delivery Service - run by our local Cafe 0.6, delivery is free. 


      Anett Petrovics