Plastic Bags Are Back
by and
Outside a Giant grocery store in Bethesda, Maryland, April 1, 2020 (Nicole Glass Photography/Shutterstock.com)

At a time when the world is focused on cleanliness, trendy — yet filthy — germ-carrying practices of the past are being discarded for common sense and good hygiene.

Yes, I’m talking about bringing back single-use plastic bags for grocery and convenience stores.

The saga of the plastic bag ban began in 2007, when the city of San Francisco banned them in the name of saving the planet. Many other large cities followed suit with similar bans or fees for using single-use bags in stores. As of January this year, eight states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont — have banned single-use plastic bags. This ridiculous trend has set a precedent for banning plastic drinking straws, coffee cup lids, and other modern-day conveniences despite their clean qualities.

People should be asking why governments jeopardized our well-being and put us all at risk in the first place when they banned single-use plastic bags.

But as health officials pointed out how reusable bags spread coronavirus — most are washed infrequently, hold germs longer, and can contaminate store countertops — California Gov. Gavin Newsom reversed course and signed an executive order to allow stores to provide disposable plastic bags to customers again. But only for 60 days.

Other states and cities like Massachusetts, Maine, and Philadelphia are temporarily allowing the use of plastic bags and or banning the use of reusable shopping bags. In New York, the enforcement date of its ban has been delayed due to a court filing by a bag manufacturer.

Now, some health departments’ shelter-in-place guidelines are requiring stores to restrict customers from bringing in their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home.

Single use is in, reusable is out.

Now that we have our priorities in order again — health and safety ahead of trendiness, people should be asking why governments jeopardized our well-being and put us all at risk in the first place when they banned single-use plastic bags.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has sounded the alarms on a second wave to the coronavirus outbreak. And other germs, for instance those that spread the common flu, could also adhere to materials in grocery stores and infect employees and customers.

Single-use plastic bags are cheap, light, and convenient. Reusing them for rubbish actually creates a net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared with heavier, thicker garbage bags sold in stores. And, as the removal of the bans on them show, they are sanitary. Compare that with cloth tote bags, which are inconvenient, eco-unfriendly compared to single use plastic bags unless used numerous times, and harbingers of bacteria and viruses. Imagine the bacteria that can accumulate on cloth tote bags from meat or chicken drippings and permeate one’s home unless the cloth bags are immediately washed — and creating new carbon dioxide emissions to do so. One study noted that plastic-bag bans were associated with a 46 percent increase in death from food-borne illnesses.

So why not bring back plastic bags permanently?

Lawmakers in states with bans on single-use plastic bags should reassess those bans in the light of the coronavirus outbreak and remove them permanently, instead of temporarily. The virus has proved that single-use plastic bags are more sanitary than reusable tote bags and that a second wave of the coronavirus or other viruses will likely occur. The coronavirus outbreak has taught us all to be more sanitary, and it has given governments the opportunity to return to policies supporting cleaner, single-use, disposable plastics.

Dan Kish and Mary Hutzler are distinguished Senior Fellows at the Institute for Energy Research. Kish holds more than 25 years of experience on Capitol Hill in natural resource and energy policy issues. Hutzler holds more than 25 years of experience at the Energy Information Administration (EIA), where she served as Acting Administrator and specialized in data collection, analysis, and forecasting.

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