The Reusable Retraction

Why Some Stores And Legislators Are Rethinking The Reusable Grocery Bag Movement

If you’ve braved a trip to your local grocery store lately, you might have noticed a reverse trend. In response to COVID-19 the single-use plastic bags tax was placed on hold, and with paper bags in short supply, stores have gone back to offering plastic shopping bags or asking customers to bag their own reusable totes. 

The change here in Connecticut came about at the end of March, as concerns mounted that store employees and others could be exposed to COVID-19 carried in on contaminated reusable bags. Some major grocery chains are reportedly not allowing shoppers to bring in reused bags at all and some states have implemented a full ban on them. 

Not much is known for certain as to whether the bags would in fact transmit disease, but we do know the possibility exists for the virus to survive on many surfaces for up to 72 hours according to the research  available from microbiologists. Shoppers who do use reusable bags are urged to sanitize them after each use, but many simply do not; whether this critical step gets forgotten or just is not an issue of concern to the user. The fear is that some shoppers do go about their business transferring the bags from home to car to their shopping carts and back without a wash or even a swipe of sanitizing wipes. 

Environmentalists, on the other hand, argue that the plastic bags being put out at stores aren’t much better. Greenpeace was reported to be citing studies suggesting that “plastics are among the surfaces that human coronaviruses may survive on for the longest.” Plastic shopping bags in stores are exposed to the air and countless customers and are also handled by many throughout the day. But those erring on the side of caution feel the single-use plastics are the less likely culprit to spread germs. 

While there may not be a clear answer right now as to how much of a threat reusable bags pose to store workers and customers, we do know that no matter the type of bag you bring your groceries home in, hand-washing is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19. Practicing good hand hygiene and regularly cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces after unloading groceries are crucial preventative measures that we all can agree on.