Reusing coffee cups, bottles and other containers for food, drinks and groceries can be safe in the face of coronavirus, experts say.
It comes as WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Ireland has revealed that the country's compliance with EU recycling targets could be at risk from an upsurge in household clearouts during lockdown.
More than 100 experts including virologists, epidemiologists, biologists, chemists and doctors from several countries have signed a statement saying reusable containers are safe if thoroughly washed.
The move comes amid concerns from environmentalists that the Covid-19 pandemic is undermining efforts to cut plastic pollution through the use of reusable containers, ranging from coffee cups to grocery refills.
The 119 signatories to the statement, who are joined by Greenpeace, say evidence indicates that the Covid-19 virus spreads primarily from inhaling aerosol droplets, rather than contact with surfaces.
To prevent transmission through objects and surfaces, people can assume that any object or surface in a public space — reusable or disposable — could be contaminated with the virus, the statement says: "Single-use plastic is not inherently safer than reusables, and causes additional public health concerns once it is discarded."
People should thoroughly wash reusable containers with hot water and detergent or soap, the experts urge, and also remember to wash their hands with soap and hot water or an alcohol-based hand rub, and avoid touching their eyes, mouth or nose.
Retailers handling reusable containers should use additional hygiene practices for Covid-19, use contact-free systems for customers' personal bags and cups, and protect employees, the statement says.
Dr Jennifer Cole, Northern European regional hub co-ordinator of the Planetary Health Alliance, based at Royal Holloway University of London, who signed the statement, said: "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.
"As our old lives resume, we must make time and space to protect and nurture healthier environments to ensure a healthier future for all."
Meanwhile, the head of recycling scheme WEEE Ireland says difficulties in recycling electrical waste present the most pressing challenge.
It shows that 38,594 tonnes of waste electrical items and the equivalent of more than 44 million used AA portable batteries were collected here in 2019.
WEEE Ireland CEO, Leo Donovan, said the country's position as one of the best-performing countries in Europe could be in jeopardy due to "an expected glut of waste electrical items" not being diverted from landfill during the lockdown.