On September 26 we convened the third annual Plastic Free Forum, a dynamic panel discussion on single-use plastics in the age of Covid-19. Our speakers included Jackie Nuñez, founder of The Last Plastic Straw and advocacy director for the Plastic Pollution Coalition; Jonathan Black, Senior Policy Advisor on energy and environment issues for U.S. Senator Tom Udall from New Mexico, the lead author of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act; Krissee D’Aguiar, chief chocolate officer of River-Sea Chocolates in Chantilly; and Ellie Cowan, a senior at Yorktown High School in Arlington, cofounder of For a Strawless Sea, and member of the EcoTeen Action Network’s Plastics Hub. Food & Water Watch Virginia’s Jolene Mafnas moderated the discussion.

Each year we use the Plastic Free Forum to kickoff the Plastic Free Challenge, 30 days from October 1 to 30 when we go on a single-use plastic diet. We avoid plastic bags, bottles, straws, and more on a mission to create a #PlasticFreeDMV. During the course of the Challenge, we offer tips, advice, resources, and now weekly actions to help you along the way. Register for the Challenge here.

Saturday’s conversation kicked off with Jackie Nuñez, who pointed us to a letter signed by more than 125 health experts worldwide stating reusables are safe to use during the Covid-19 pandemic. The fact is reusables are doable right now. Single-use plastics are not inherently more hygienic that other materials. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that the coronavirus remains viable on plastic surfaces for days. World Health Organization guidance suggests handwashing is more effective at preventing the transfer of the virus than wearing disposable plastic gloves. And the CDC says people are much more likely to contract Covid-19 by breathing respiratory droplets than by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.

Still, the plastics industry is using this moment—and preying on our fear—to promote its product and reverse years of progress toward phasing out single-use packaging.

That makes this the perfect time to promote industry accountability for the toxicity and pollution plastic creates at every stage of its lifecycle. And we can do that by supporting the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, sponsored by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA). As Jonathan Black explained on Saturday, this legislation would put responsibility for the plastic pollution crisis squarely on the shoulders of corporations, requiring them to develop, manage, and finance waste and recycling programs. It would also ban certain single-use products nationwide and spur investment in domestic recycling and composting programs. Read more about the bill here, and show your support for the bill here.

CALL TO ACTION: Call or tweet your senators and representatives today to ask them to co-sponsor the Break Free for Plastic Pollution Act.

    Sen. Mark Warner: (202) 224-2023, @MarkWarner
    Sen. Tim Kaine: (202) 224-4024, @timkaine
    Rep. Jennifer Wexton (VA-10): (202) 225-5136, @JenniferWexton
    Rep. Don Beyer (VA-08): (202) 225-4376, @RepDonBeyer
    Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA-11): (202) 225-1492, @GerryConnolly
    (Connolly is already a co-sponsor, so call or tweet to thank him!)

Our third panelist, River-Sea Chocolates’ Krissee D’Aguiar shared advice and tips for reaching out to local businesses about reducing waste. Businesses need to hear from their customers that waste reduction is important to them. Point out that you prefer to spend your money at businesses that reflect your eco-friendly sensibilities. Point out that accepting customers’ reusables and skipping the straw can save business owners money. Check out the resources we have for business owners looking to become more sustainable here.

Finally, we welcomed youth activist Ellie Cowan, who reminded us that plastic pollution is a conservation, climate, and social justice issue. Plastics are made from fossil fuels and produce carbon pollution at every stage of their lifecycle. Plastics litter our waterways and roadsides and put wildlife across the globe at risk. And plastic pollution is often more prevalent in low-income communities and communities of color, where plastic manufacturing plants are sited.

Throughout our program, our panelists inundated the chat with fantastic and timely resources for learning more about the plastic pollution problem. Below are a few of those resources. Register now for the Plastic Free Challenge and you’ll receive even more tips, wisdom, and resources from our expert panelists.


  • Plastic Pollution Coalition Webinar: Plastic Pandemic: Strategies & Solutions in Times of Covid-19
  • Oceanic Global COVID Factsheet
  • Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act Launch
  • Plastic Wars (PBS Frontline film on the fight over the future of plastics, 54 min)
  • Glass, Metal, Plastic: The Story of New Yorks Canners (Story of Stuff video, 9 min)
  • The End of the Road (independent video about the Surabaya area on the island of Java, Indonesia, 5 min)
  • Plastic China (feature film about two Chinese families who make their living recycling waste imported from developed countries, on Amazon Prime)
  • A Plastic Whale (documentary about plastic pollution and ocean wildlife, 46 min, on Amazon Prime)
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