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Plastic Bag Bans Put on Hold Amid Coronavirus Fears

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A customer carries his reusable bag after shopping at a supermarket in New York City. New York State, which implemented its plastic bag ban on March 1, has decided to hold off enforcement until at least May 15. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Getty Images

A number of states and cities that implemented bans on plastic bags are putting them on hold over concerns about the cleanliness of reusable bags amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.


Last week, the Massachusetts Food Administration asked Governor Charlie Baker to rescind bans on plastic bags in several towns over concerns that handling the reusable bags poses a threat to grocery store workers. While some viruses are known to survive in reusable shopping bags for up to nine days, there is no evidence so far that the novel coronavirus does, according to Patch.

Massachusetts' neighbors seem to be following a similar trajectory. New York State, which implemented its plastic bag ban on March 1, has decided to hold off enforcement until at least May 15, according to the state's Department of Conservation (DEC).

Despite the delay in enforcement, New York State still encourages shoppers to use reusable bags when shopping for their essentials.

DEC continues to encourage New Yorkers to transition to reusable bags whenever and wherever they shop and to use common sense precautions to keep their reusable bags clean," said Erica Ringewald, spokeswoman for DEC, as the Brooklyn Eagle reported. "New York's ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect as planned on March 1. Retailers across the state are complying."

"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," tweeted DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, as the New York Post reported. "New Yorkers are pleased with the bag ban and have no interest in a return to polluting ways."

New Hampshire went in another direction. Out of an abundance of caution, the governor issued an emergency order banning reusable bags, requiring stores to use plastic or paper instead, according to the Boston Herald.

"Our grocery store workers are on the front lines of COVID-19, working around the clock to keep New Hampshire families fed," said Gov. Chris Sununu in a statement. "With identified community transmission, it is important that shoppers keep their reusable bags at home given the potential risk to baggers, grocers and customers."

In Maine, the state's ban on plastic bags was scheduled to go into effect on Earth Day, April 22. However, the novel coronavirus forced lawmakers to reconsider their plans. Last week, Gov. Janet Mills announced that the plastic bag ban's enforcement will wait until Jan. 15, 2021, according to the trade publication Plastics News.

"These emergency measures will support the state's response to the coronavirus and mitigate its spread in Maine," Mills said, as Plastics News reported.

The sudden reversal of policies meant to reduce waste threatens to undo environmental gains various states and cities have made.

"Concerns around food hygiene due to COVID-19 could increase plastic packaging intensity, undoing some of the early progress made by companies towards a circular economy," said a March 12 report from consulting firm BloombergNEF, as Plastics News reported.

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