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Single-use plastic bags make comeback after reusable bags are linked to coronavirus infection

To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced that he was suspending the ten-cent tax on single-use plastic bags
UPDATED MAR 30, 2020
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Single-use plastic grocery bags are being welcomed back — even by states that introduced “green” regulations taxing their sale — after health officials warned of possible contamination and transmission via reusable bags amid the coronavirus outbreak.

As part of efforts “to mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) announced on March 26 that he was suspending the ten-cent tax on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and other retail businesses, Breitbart reports.

“The latter move is to curb the use of personal bags that could bring the virus into a store,” according to the Journal Inquirer.

Tiziana from the Cataldi grocery store is preparing to open the shop wearing a protective mask and gloves on March 11, 2020, in Rome, Italy (Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the Boston Business Journal reported how neighboring Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) also banned reusable bags in stores this week while lifting bans on plastic bags “as part of his administration’s latest steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus."

“Baker announced Wednesday that stores cannot charge for either paper or plastic bags, which in some communities have previously cost 5 cents per bag,” the report noted.

That said, New York State and Maine have also decided to delay enforcing proposed bans on single-use plastic bags.

A lawsuit challenging the ban on plastic bags in New York has also been delayed due to the ongoing crisis.

However, Basil Seggos, commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, did not agree with postponing a ban on plastic bags.

"...Folks, if you are concerned about the cleanliness of your reusable bag, please consider washing it— as you wash clothes or hands. It’s good hygiene anyway," he tweeted. "New Yorkers are pleased with the bag ban and have no interest in a return to polluting ways."

But New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) acknowledged the risk posed by reusable bags at stores, issuing an immediate ban on March 28.

"In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through grocery sales, and to promote and secure the safety and protection of the people of New Hampshire … all grocery stores … and any other establishment within this State offering groceries for sale, shall transition to exclusive use of store provided single-use plastic or paper bags when bagging groceries or other products for customers," the order read.

Employees hand out free reusable grocery bags at a Whole Foods Market natural and organic foods stores which is ending the use of disposable plastic grocery bags in its 270 stores in the US Canada and UK on Earth Day, April 22, 2008, in Pasadena California (Getty Images)

However, a number of states are still going ahead with plastic bag bans, with a report at New Hampshire’s Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy asserting how “concerns about public health tended to be dismissed, even though studies have shown genuine potential health hazards.”

Researchers at Loma Linda University School of Public Health studied the possible transmission of norovirus through reusable grocery bags (RGBs) at stores back in June 2018.

They found that after inoculating RGBs with a surrogate virus to evaluate how the pathogens moved within a grocery store, the virus “spread to all surfaces touched by the shopper; the highest concentration occurred on the shopper’s hands, the checkout stand, and the clerk’s hands.”

Researchers concluded that the high concentration of the contagion warranted public education about washing RGBs between use. However, many people still continue to empty their groceries and meat before replacing the bags immediately in their cars so they can use them during their next shopping trip.