PORTLAND, Ore. — Just weeks ago, cities and even states across the U.S. were busy banning straws, limiting takeout containers and requiring shoppers to bring reusable bags or pay a small fee.
The pandemic is quickly changing that.
Grocery clerks are nervous that the coronavirus could linger on reusable fabric bags and their unions are backing them up with demands to end plastic bag fees and suspend bag bans.
Massachusetts and Illinois just temporarily banned reusable bags in grocery stores, and Oregon this week put a pause on its new plastic bag ban as the coronavirus rages. Several other states have either stopped enforcing their plastic-bag bans or banned reusables outright.
San Francisco, which was one of the first U.S. cities to ban plastic bags, has also banned reusable bags, mugs and other items.
The plastics industry has seized the moment and is lobbying to overturn existing bans on single-use plastics.
In a letter obtained by Politico, the Plastics Industry Association asked the Department of Health and Human Services to make a statement endorsing the idea that single-use plastics are the safest choice amid the pandemic.
However, it hasn’t been proved that plastic is less likely to transmit the coronavirus than other surfaces. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on plastic for up to three days, and it can survive on paper for 24 hours. Fabric bags were not tested in the study.
Brian Nichols, an associate professor of biological sciences at Seton Hall University, told CBS News that he doesn’t see how using plastic would protect you more from COVID-19.
Ivy Schlegel, a research specialist with Greenpeace USA, made the argument to CBS News that if reusable bags can transmit disease, the same could be true of purses, backpacks and even clothes that shoppers routinely take into stores.
Rather than fixating on which bags to use, experts suggest cleaning commonly touched surfaces, like carts, and washing your hands frequently to help protect yourself against the coronavirus while shopping.
Experts also recommend that you regularly wash your reusable bags to destroy any viruses, either by wiping them down or throwing them in the laundry.
Environmentalists worry that COVID-19, and the fear it engenders, could set back the movement to eliminate single-use plastics for years.