Plastic Bag Bans Put on Hold Amid Coronavirus Fears
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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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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