Covid-19 and what it means for our team, for consumers, and for zero waste globally


02 Apr 2020

Written by

ZWE Staff


We are currently living through an unprecedented global pandemic which has forced many into new working and living realities, and most, into disarray. We are all individually and collectively coming to terms with something that we did not anticipate and still do not fully understand. 

The impact of Covid-19 across the world has been immense, and it means different things for different people. Covid-19, like many global catastrophes before it, is showcasing the vast inequalities of our current world systems making the need to protect the most vulnerable in society as clear as can be. In this confusing and challenging time, one thing remains absolutely certain: 

Our health, well-being and safety is the first priority. 

Everything that follows should take into account the complexities and fragilities of this situation across the world. To fail to do so would fail to recognise the reality of this pandemic and the very real impacts it is having on individuals, communities and healthcare workers worldwide. 

Now more than ever, we must practice compassion and care. Efforts should focus on hand washing, social distancing, avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth, and respiratory hygiene techniques to avoid contamination. Both for our own safety and the lives of others.

What does Covid-19 mean for our team at Zero Waste Europe 

At Zero Waste Europe we are doing our best to build internal support networks in our immediate teams and more widely across our incredible global network of zero waste activists and changemakers. The global nature of this virus has showcased what we already knew to be true: international solidarity, support and knowledge sharing is critical for the betterment of our society and environment, and can be made stronger during times of collective trauma. 

Our network must, and will, come together to be stronger and more connected than ever before. It is by coming together in solidarity that our societies and communities will become more resilient to current and future global challenges. Now is the time to lean on one another for emotional and physical support to bring out the best in people worldwide. 

We have been uplifted by the ways our communities are already coming together online – through check-ins, sharing resources and offering a helping hand. And we are so inspired to see organic examples of community support happening across all parts of society all over Europe and beyond. These everyday acts of kindness make a huge difference to the lives of so many.

What does Covid-19 mean for consumers

Our health, well-being and safety during this time is the first priority.

Life is far-from-normal, and these situations can bring out the best of us, the worst of us, and hopefully – the survivor in us. Keeping ourselves and our communities safe and healthy is critical, and remains the highest priority. 

For many people around the world the social and economic implications of Covid-19 are huge, whether they have contracted the virus or not. The burden on healthcare workers, waste management workers, the unemployed, those who cannot work from home and those who cannot access the resources they need, should not be overlooked. This is a human pandemic, and humans should be able to make the choices that work best for them given the situation. 

For those, like us, who strive to live a zero waste lifestyle, we’ve been thrown an unexpected curveball. Retailers are increasingly announcing restrictions on reusable containers, packaging free shops are losing customers and yet, this is all happening with the best intentions to keep workers and consumers safe. 

What’s important is that we do what we can with the resources we have to keep ourselves and others safe. 

And, though it should go without saying, we urge the packaging and plastics industry not to use this pandemic as a means to take us back to a world full of waste. It’s insensitive and unnecessary when the evidence does not support their claims. 

What does Covid-19 mean for zero waste

Our world has been flipped upside down, and so too have our zero waste systems. On the one hand packaging-free shop owners are struggling, separate collection systems are being suspended, and there is new mistrust in reusable products. In the global south the impact of Covid-19 on waste pickers has been hugely impactful with informal recycling economies shattered leaving many without any means to recycle. Yet, on the other hand, reusable nappies and tap water are on the up, food waste is likely in decline, individuals may become more conscious of their waste habits, and communities are coming together to create networks and support systems that will have long lasting positive effects. 

There is, of course, lots of work to be done in the aftermath of this pandemic to ensure that industries and governments alike do not use this disaster as an excuse to revert to systems of reduced democracy, increased disposability and negligence. Our world is not yet resilient enough, it’s not inclusive enough, and we have not yet built systems that work for both humans and the planet. But we will, and Covid-19 has proved how quickly we can act when the stakes are high enough.

Covid-19 is a brutal reminder of the need to come together as a global community to support the world’s most vulnerable and to build systems that benefit all. It will be a lesson learnt that resilient and sustainable societal systems are the only future possible where humans and nature can live together in harmony.