Many of us have seen the photos of empty freeways and deserted downtowns. We’ve read the reports about the Venice canals running cleaner than they have been in 60 years. I can personally attest that air quality in Los Angeles is the best I’ve ever seen it. In many ways, the global pandemic that has led to people across the globe staying home has done wonders for the environment. However, we have another situation on our hands now, some of the measures we’ve taken to help reduce waste may be harmful to our health. Specifically: reusable shopping bags. Basically, those bags you keep collecting and shoving in your trunk have turned fully against you by increasing your chances of picking up COVID-19 at your local grocery store. So much so, that San Francisco has banned them. Read that again, Liberal central, San Francisco, has banned the use of reusable shopping bags in public markets. So what is the answer? Plastic bags… and plenty of them.
In the latest sign of how dramatically the coronavirus pandemic is altering the social landscape, even the liberal San Francisco Bay Area this week banned reusable grocery bags as a sanitary measure, dismaying recycling advocates who say durable sacks should still be allowed at stores.
The provision was among a host of lifestyle changes imposed Tuesday by six Bay Area counties in a rewrite of their first-in-the-nation March 16 order that required millions of residents to shelter at home. The counties have been credited with taking early actions that may have helped slow the spread in California.
The rule appears to be the most stringent coronavirus-related restriction placed on reusable bags in California, which has banned single-use plastic bags since 2016. California allows the 70 or so jurisdictions whose local bans preceded the state ban, including most of the Bay Area, Los Angeles County and Sacramento County, to preempt state law.
California has aggressively moved toward reusable containers in an effort to reduce plastic consumption. Gov. Gavin Newsom last year signed the nation’s first state law banning hotels from using small single-use plastic containers for shampoo and other toiletries. State lawmakers have also worked on bills that would phase out single-use plastic by 2030 in California.
But the coronavirus has altered the state’s environmental march. Bottled water has flown off store shelves, while some fear the coronavirus will hinder efforts to build high-density housing near transit. Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee, which have coffee shops across Northern California, stopped refilling customers’ mugs earlier this month in favor of paper cups.
The plastics industry has lobbied on the federal level and in New York, New Jersey and other states, asserting that often-unwashed reusable bags are hotbeds for the coronavirus, which early research suggests can remain on surfaces. But so far, there hasn’t been evidence of industry lobbying in California.
Recycling advocates said they would prefer a statewide policy that says customers can still bring their bags into stores, but grocery employees don’t have to fill them.
“This fear of bringing reusable bags into the stores is misguided, but I certainly understand why store employees don’t want to handle somebody else’s things,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. “I wouldn’t have any expectation that somebody is going to put my groceries into my bag that I brought from home.”
“The plastics industry has lobbied on the federal level and in New York, New Jersey and other states, asserting that often-unwashed reusable bags are hotbeds for the coronavirus,” I wonder exactly how long after the first case was reported in the US did lobbyists everywhere leap to profit from this? However, in this case, are they right? According to this Huffington Post article CB sent me, yes. Food safety experts say we should be careful of anything that is being touched by others. As scientists firm up the numbers as to how long the virus really does live on surfaces, it’s best to err on the side of caution and assume it can live anywhere. Not only should you put your food in plastic, single use bags, you should use the ones provided at the store to grab any produce you want to see closer. And take advantage of those cart wipes they offer and thoroughly wipe down your cart and anything someone else might have touched. But what do we do with all this extra plastic? You can’t exactly run them through the washing machine, but you can wash them in hot water and soap. Plastic bags can help prevent freezer burn if it is wrapped tight enough around that bulk ground beef you bought. All those cute little trash cans around your house could use a liner so you don’t have to touch those tissues you are supposed to sneeze into. You can use them in place of gloves if you are wiping down delivery boxes or whatever else you bring in from your porch. Basically, find a way to reuse them that makes sense.
Back to San Francisco, are they going too far by issuing a ban on reusable bags? Much like Gov Cuomo in New York, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom (the former mayor of San Francisco) took the reins of his state’s handling of COVID-19. His measures have been quick and decisive, and he has no problem going even further if it means keeping Californians safe. Wednesday he officially closed schools for the remainder of the school year. I am totally behind the decision, but it still breaks my heart. (However, the fact that it pissed Devin Nunes off eased some of the pain.) But, as Politico pointed out in another article, the Bay Area did it – they bent the curve with all of their measures. I know it’s still going to get worse before it gets better, but there were less reported cases than anticipated. This, along with the efforts of Gov. Inslee in Washington that have helped curb their numbers, has all eyes on the West Coast. Forgive my humble-bragging but honestly, when all y’all are looking at us, it’s usually because we’re living up to our rep as the Land of Fruits and Nuts.
There’s no greater intervention than physical distancing.
That’s how we flatten the curve.
That’s how we save lives.
By staying HOME. pic.twitter.com/Fzo6NL4r1g
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) April 1, 2020
Photo credit: Getty Images and Instagram