Tom Newmaster is the founder of central Pennsylvania-based FORCEpkg. He has more than 25 years of experience in branding and design for consumer packaged goods. Newmaster serves as an adjunct instructor at Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.
In a recent Bloomberg article by Leslie Kaufman entitled “Plastics Had Been Falling Out of Favor. Then Came the Virus,” an interesting image sits at the top of the piece. It’s a grocery store display of apples (two per serving) covered in plastic wrap and sitting in plastic trays. In light of COVID-19, doesn’t it make more sense to have that plastic protection than to sell apples the traditional way, where shoppers pick them up by hand? If the virus is sitting on the plastic that you throw away, that just makes more sense than the risk of a live virus sitting on the skin of the fruit. Who wants to bite into an infected apple?
Pre-packed foods such as salad bowls, single-serve yogurt and fruit salads, and, yes, water bottles, are still in demand. Plastic is a convenience factor, but it’s also a safety factor. Single-serve alone works against cross-contamination: fewer people are handling a package and then disposing of it. We are seeing with our clients the discussion is more around health and safety than it is about impacts on the planet.
There is a time and place for everything, but we are in uncharted waters. Take-out containers and plastic bags are being used now in an effort to supply consumers and slow the spread of the virus. At this specific moment in our history, political correctness about how we dispose of plastic has to be balanced against the threat of the fast-spreading COVID-19. Killing all plastic is not the answer.