Within the past decade, many environment minded people and organizations have successfully helped get plastic bags banned. With things like the zero waste movement, they helped promote the use of more sustainable reusable shopping bags. So in recent years, many cities, states and countries all over the world have introduced measures to ban plastic bags (or have banned them entirely) in order to be more responsible and do their part to take care of the planet. But with the COVID-19 outbreak, certain organizations that may have ties with the oil industry see this pandemic as an opportunity to create a reusable shopping bags ban at stores and make plastic bags not an option, but a requirement at checkout.
But why would they do this? Financial incentive. The plastic bag industry (which relies on the oil industry in order to produce their products) makes billions of dollars a year producing and selling plastic bags globally. So how much is at stake for them with plastic bags?… $39+ billion a year, according to PlasticsToday.
Why Plastic Bags Were Being Banned in The First Place
Its estimated we use somewhere between 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags a year around the world and plastic bags turn out to be one of the most commonly used “single use” plastics. A vast majority of this plastic doesn’t get recycled and ends up in landfills, streets, trees and the ocean. From this point plastic bags, like most other plastics, continue to break down and form into micro plastics which are even harder to clean up. Because these plastics are so small, they end up killing millions of animals and work their way deeper into the environment at all levels. This pollutes the ocean, water supplies and soil for hundreds of years. At the current pollution rates, its estimated by 2050 the world’s oceans could have more plastic than fish by weight.
So in an effort to reduce “single use plastics” cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Mexico City and states like California, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, New York and Maine have all banned plastic bags. Entire countries like Bangladesh, New Zealand, Italy, China, Kenya, Congo, Rwanda and South Africa have also completely banned the use of plastic bags years ago. This resulted in billions of plastic bags that would normally pollute the environment or end up in a landfill to not be produced at all.
This was a huge win for the environmental organizations and people involved that spent years of their time to ensure that these plastics never made their way into the environment. Much of that progress seemed to have ramped up in 2019 and early 2020.
Who Stands to Gain From a Shopping Bags Ban During COVID-19 Pandemic
The banning of plastic bags and promoting the use of reusable shopping bags was a big blow to the plastics and oil industry but a huge win for the environment. This is costing the oil and plastics industries billions of dollars a year.
Greenpeace stated in an article that the plastics industry is exploiting COVID-19 in order to get reusable shopping bags banned. Reusable shopping bags are the one sustainable solution we have that prevents large amounts of plastic bag pollution from entering the ecosystem. The Guardian also published an article exposing how certain organizations that have affiliations with the oil industry are using the media to get reusable shopping bags banned and replace them with plastic bags.
The plastics industry seems to be taking advantage of this situation in order to leverage their plastic bags back into stores. After all this is over, there is a lot of work that has to be done to get plastic bags banned again. In the meantime, these companies are raking in revenue from the surge of plastic bag orders that customers are now required to use since they’re not allowed to bring reusable shopping bags.
Keep in mind that multiple studies confirmed that steel and plastic surfaces harbored the COVID-19 virus the longest of up to 72 hours (3days). So unless all those plastic bags in the store were:
- manufactured in a sanitized facility with hospital grade standards
- packed and handled with sanitized hands every step of the way in shipping
- unpacked and handled with sanitized hands from the delivery dock to the checkout counter (also with hospital grade standards)
they are just as likely, if not more likely, to be contaminated with or harbor the COVID-19 virus with regards to how long the virus lasts on plastic surfaces. Assuming that not a single person who has handled those plastic bags didn’t cough on them or touch them after wiping their nose, they are not cleaner than any other material. At least when you bring your own reusable shopping bags… you know no one else has touched them but you.
Should We Avoid Using Reusable Shopping Bags During the COVID-19 Outbreak?
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist from the University of Alberta, was asked on CBC news if “Should We Avoid Using Reusable Bags During the COVID-19 Outbreak?” She stated that
”people should pay attention to what they’re doing with their belongings and where they’ve been before assuming that things carry risk and I think that you’re options would be a reusable bag that you can wash frequently or a single use bag that you can dispose of, which is of course environmentally less friendly”.Dr. Lynora Saxinger
The only surfaces in a grocery store that a reusable shopping bag might actually touch is in the bagging area. An area that store workers have already been instructed to clean thoroughly.
The whole argument that certain people and companies are using in order to get reusable shopping bags banned is research that showed the virus can live on certain surfaces for hours to days. So their response is that people shouldn’t be bringing materials from home. When the exact same studies specifically state that the virus can survive on plastic surfaces for up to 3 days. So if that’s the approach… then by those standards we shouldn’t allow customers to have their own clothes or shoes in the store either since they bring those from home too. The same precedent that companies are using to ban shopping bags would require every customer to:
- Wear sterile gloves that handed out to each customer as they walked in to make sure they don’t touch anything with bare hands… that they probably coughed into.
- Wear a face mask. Every customer would have be required to wear masks before entering the store to make sure they don’t cough, breathe or sneeze on any items.
- Not be allowed to have any outside items like cellphones, credit cards, cash, etc. These are items that are most likely to have the viruses on them through multiple communal surface contacts.
This list is to point out how ridiculous the reasoning is in regards to the reusable shopping bag ban by numerous companies and local grocery stores. Nothing about banning reusable bags to prevent the spread of viruses makes any sense unless stores are willing to take measures that are nothing short of handing out hazmat suits at the door.
Ethical Use of Reusable Shopping Bags During a Pandemic
Rather than insisting a shopping bag ban, it makes more sense to update the protocols for how reusable shopping bags are handled. This is something that the Surfrider Foundation in Oregon pointed out with reusable shopping bags. They pointed out that it seems we are focusing on the reusable bag instead of the things that could actually expose a customer or employee to the virus. People who take reusable bags to a grocery store (that allows them to) should:
- Wash the shopping bags after every time they’re used during this pandemic.
- Keep the reusable bags with them and not place them in shopping carts or baskets.
- Bag your own groceries and insist on doing it.
This is not only for safety of the person using the bags but for the safety of other people. Employees at checkout should never handle a customer’s reusable bags (this should be standard even outside the pandemic). If customers choose to bring reusable shopping bags, that customer has to be responsible for bagging their own groceries. This prevents the exchange and contact of surfaces that may carry the virus. It ensures the only person who touched the bags… was the person who brought them.
Both the University of Florida and University of California Davis published articles on preventative measures to keep yourself safe and guidelines on washing your reusable shopping bags. Both Universities state
“At this time, there is no link between reusable bags and COVID-19. Reusable bags are not considered a significant risk factor in the spread of COVID-19 and as such do not need to be banned from stores.”
During moments in history where its necessary that humanity works together to overcome challenges, such as the one we are facing with COVID-19, we have to also be aware of those that use these unfortunate events for their own agendas and gain… in this case at the expense of the environment.
Stay safe, take care of each other and find what is truly important to you during times like these.