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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The war against plastic is losing, for now, to the war against the coronavirus.

Where it stands: Reusable everything, from bags to utensils, is considered a potential spreader of COVID-19, so businesses across the spectrum are swapping multi-use products for single-use alternatives, most of which is plastic.

Why it matters: Plastic was polluting virtually everywhere on Earth before the pandemic, prompting a global outcry to improve recycling or get off the petroleum-derived material altogether. Now, the coronavirus is leaving its mark with plastic masks and gloves washing up on beaches around the world — just one of many stark examples.

By the numbers: Forecasts suggest a big — but temporary — spike in plastic use, according to data from Wood Mackenzie on flexible packaging, a material that's made from plastic 90% of the time. It’s used for storing items like food and medical equipment.

  • Use of flexible packaging is set to increase 8% in the U.S. this year, compared to a pre-pandemic forecast of just 3.2%.
  • That forecast drops back down to 2% by 2021 though.
  • This data does not capture increased use of different kinds of plastic that may have longer uses, such as plexiglass to divide people in restaurants and offices.
Data: Wood Mackenzie; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Yes, but: Those assumptions should face scrutiny, according to Ben Locwin, an epidemiologist and consultant for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • “The whole reason behavioral economics field exists is because people don’t act rationally. To assume everyone will go back to how they used to behave when the new disposal lifestyle is more convenient isn’t true.”

How it works: Oil and gas companies also make the products that eventually become plastic, and they have been betting on the world’s steadily growing consumption of plastic even before the pandemic hit.

Experts say the COVID-19 outbreak won't provide a long-term boost to demand.

“In terms of oil demand, this spike has more to do with a very temporary unique situation,” said Rob Gilfillan, an expert on plastics for Wood Mackenzie. “Plastic packaging remains under the microscope and brands won’t back down from those pledges they made pre-coronavirus.”

The intrigue: While some governments have delayed bans on plastic material because of the pandemic, none have been scrapped altogether despite increased lobbying on behalf of the plastic industry, according to Judith Enck, former top official at the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama and founder of Beyond Plastic, an initiative out of Bennington College where she teaches.

What’s next: More than 100 organizations, including Enck’s group and other environmental nonprofits, are sending a letter Thursday to food delivery companies like GrubHub and UberEats urging them to make it the default position on their apps to not include plastic utensils and other single-use items unless the user explicitly asks for it.

Go deeper: Single-use plastic is back in the pandemic era (WSJ)

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Health

India crosses 1 billion COVID vaccinations milestone

A health worker inoculates a COVID-19 vaccine dose to a man wearing a face mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Beawar, India, in September. Photo: Sumit Saraswat/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Thursday that the country's health workers have now administered more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines doses.

Of note: While this is a significant milestone for the country of 1.4 billion, which has been devastated by the coronavirus, only about 30% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, per AP. Roughly 75% has received at least one dose.

Trump says he plans to launch new social media network in 2022

Photo: Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Trump on Wednesday announced plans to launch a social media network called "Truth Social," and that it would go public via a SPAC.

Why it matters: Most ex-presidents are focused on their legacies, by creating presidential libraries or engaging in philanthropic endeavors. Trump, however, remains consumed by social media.

Beauty giant Coty Cosmetics looking to sell its own branded products

Coty Cosmetics CEO Sue Nabi. Photo: Axios on HBO

Coty Cosmetics CEO Sue Nabi tells Axios the beauty giant will “probably” introduce Coty-branded products one day.

Why it matters: Coty produces some of the world’s most popular fragrances, skin care products and color cosmetics on behalf of other well-known brands, but has shied away from producing its own branded products.

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