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Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban Backfires — Could Increase Wuhan Coronavirus Transmission Risk

Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban Backfires — Could Increase Wuhan Coronavirus Transmission Risk

“The COVID-19 virus is just one of many pathogens that shoppers can spread unless they wash [reusable] bags regularly, which few people bother to do.”

CDC Image

As the government, businesses, and individuals move to slow Wuhan coronavirus’ spread, one of the environmentalists’ pet “green” projects is under threat. Many municipalities and states banned single-use plastic bags due to heavy lobbying by those who insist that officials replace them with germ- and bacteria-laden reusable shopping bags.

That seems to be changing, much to environmentalists’ dissatisfaction, in the face of the Wuhan coronavirus.  Because the virus can survive on such items and thus spread infection, many plastic bag bans are being delayed or lifted to shut down the petri dish of contagion these reusable shopping bags represent.

Personally, I am always a little skeeved out to see some misguided shopper toss dripping packages of raw chicken and blood-oozing ground beef packages into their “earth-friendly” shopping totes.  People using these totes typically don’t use the provided plastic(!) bags to contain such leakage, and these totes are then loaded up with fresh fruit and vegetables, loosely wrapped bakery or deli items (no plastic!), and etc.

I cringe every time I see it happen at the grocery store, not just because it’s disgusting but because I know that these totes, replete with who knows what disgusting pathogens, are then left baking in their owners’ electric cars until their next foray to the supermarket . . . . where they will pile more oozing packages of raw meat and fresh produce into their own personal hazardous waste experiment bags.

Now I’m sure that some of these reusable shopping bag owners do wash or, at the very least, rinse out their bio-hazard totes from time to time, particularly when they become visibly soiled.  But do they all disinfect them—kill all the nasties, including those that cannot be seen—every single time they use them?  Seems doubtful.

This is why many public health experts were not enthusiastic about the push for reusable shopping bags in the first place.  With the coronavirus entering the picture, this fad seems to have hit a snag.

The New York Post reports:

The COVID-19 outbreak is giving new meaning to those “sustainable” shopping bags that politicians and environmentalists have been so eager to impose on the public. These reusable tote bags can sustain the COVID-19 and flu viruses — and spread the viruses throughout the store.

Researchers have been warning for years about the risks of these bags spreading deadly viral and bacterial diseases, but public officials have ignored their concerns, determined to eliminate single-use bags and other plastic products despite their obvious advantages in reducing the spread of pathogens.

In New York state, a new law took effect this month banning single-use plastic bags in most retail businesses, and this week Democratic state legislators advanced a bill that would force coffee shops to accept consumers’ reusable cups — a practice that Starbucks and other chains have wisely suspended to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus.

John Flanagan, the Republican leader of the New York state Senate, has criticized the new legislation and called for a suspension of the law banning plastic bags. “Senate Democrats’ desperate need to be green is unclean during the coronavirus outbreak,” he said Tuesday, but so far he’s been a lonely voice among public officials.

The COVID-19 virus is just one of many pathogens that shoppers can spread unless they wash the bags regularly, which few people bother to do. Viruses and bacteria can survive in the tote bags up to nine days, according to one study of coronaviruses.

It turns out that my initial if unlearned, common sense disgust with these reusable shopping bags was well-placed.

The New York Post continues:

The risk of spreading viruses was clearly demonstrated in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health. The researchers, led by Ryan Sinclair of the Loma Linda University School of Public Health, sent shoppers into three California grocery stores carrying polypropylene plastic tote bags that had been sprayed with a harmless surrogate of a virus.

After the shoppers bought groceries and checked out, the researchers found sufficiently high traces of the surrogate to risk transmission on the hands of the shoppers and checkout clerks, as well as on many surfaces touched by the shoppers, including packaged food, unpackaged produce, shopping carts, checkout counters, and the touch screens used to pay for groceries. The researchers said that the results warranted the adaptation of “in-store hand hygiene” and “surface disinfection” by merchants, and they also recommended educating shoppers to wash their bags.

An earlier study of supermarkets in Arizona and California found large numbers of bacteria in almost all the reusable bags — and no contamination in any of the new single-use plastic bags. When a bag with meat juice on the interior was stored in the trunk of a car, within two hours the number of bacteria multiplied tenfold.

The researchers also found that the vast majority of shoppers never followed the advice to wash their bags. One of the researchers, Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, said that the findings “suggest a serious threat to public health,” particularly from fecal coliform bacteria, which was found in half the bags. These bacteria and other pathogens can be transferred from raw meat in the bag and also from other sources.

Environmentalists are upset with the turn of events represented by the Wuhan coronavirus. They are concerned that people who are now in the habit of using these reusable shopping bags will become deprogrammed and go back to using single-use plastic bags. This, they fear, is more worrisome than Wuhan coronavirus. Or something.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Environmentalists say temporary moves away from reusable cups and bags could have a lasting impact on the fight against single-use plastics. They worry the moves could raise bigger doubts about the hygiene of reusable products and disrupt fragile consumer habits.

Larissa Copello de Souza, a campaigner at Zero Waste Europe, a Brussels-based nonprofit, said companies were shortsighted to focus only on the threat posed by coronavirus. “We cannot forget and disregard the other big current challenges we are also currently facing,” she said, citing climate change, waste and plastic production. “Promoting the use of reusables is certainly one of the greatest practices we can have to address those issues.”

Upstream, a nonprofit, also defended reusables.

“Coronavirus mainly spreads through coughs and sneezes, not your reusable water bottle or cup,” it said, adding that disposable items could harbor pathogens that settled during manufacturing and transportation.

. . . . Ravi Dhar, director of the Center for Customer Insights at the Yale School of Management, says habit formation is particularly important when trying to persuade people to change their behavior. Once habits are set, people behave without careful deliberation, like automatically brushing one’s teeth every morning.

I never made the switch to reusable shopping bags (yuck), but I did briefly try paper shopping bags.  The problem I found is that the new paper bags were not nearly as sturdy as the ones we had before single-use plastic bags became the norm.

The new paper bags split easily, just from the corner of a box of cereal/crackers or from the slightest bit of weight, and I ended up with my groceries strewn all over my driveway.  This did not make me happy, especially when items in glass jars or bottles broke.  So I went back to plastic.

Then they started making single-use plastic bags so thin that more of my groceries met the pavement than my fridge or pantry, so now I always have my groceries double-bagged in single-use plastic bags. I am shamelessly happy about this choice and no longer see my money splatted all over the pavement.

Single-use plastic bags are more convenient and economical since I’m not losing money on broken jars and bottles shattering as they fall onto grocery store parking lots or my own drive/walkway.  More importantly, though, it seems far safer in terms of public—and my—health . . . and not just during a global pandemic.


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notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital | March 20, 2020 at 7:13 pm

Yes, those fabric bags are NASTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Paper bags are recyclable, from quickly renewable resources, and better in many ways, considering single use.

notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital | March 20, 2020 at 7:40 pm


Diamond and Silk on live talking to Dr. Nan Hayworth about the Coronavirus.

Reusable bags already banned in Connecticut.

When a bag with meat juice on the interior was stored in the trunk of a car, within two hours the number of bacteria multiplied tenfold.

Which has nothing to do with viruses.

particularly from fecal coliform bacteria, which was found in half the bags.

If these stores are selling stuff already infested with coliform bacteria, the Chinese virus may be the least of the problem. Coliforms imply wretched cleanliness and sanitation long before the customer meets the product.

When I got fed up with the insulting way plastic bags were shoved down our throats by smug virtue-signalling stores, I pushed back by buying exactly 437 bags (or 363, or some other unusual number around $20 or so) and then insisting the cashier count them out individually to ensure I was getting exactly the number of bags I was paying for.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to daniel_ream. | March 20, 2020 at 9:40 pm

    Hear Hear!

    I was also hacked off by “know nuttin’ virtue signaling”
    nit wits at the grocery stores saying plastic was better than paper, when the store gave customers the choice of plastic or paper.

    Just figured the plastic was dirt cheaper than the paper.

I remember when the liberals cried about paper bags leading to deforestation and the deaths of forest animals. So we switched to plastic. Then they said plastic bags were bad because of litter and they take 6 billion years to decompose. If it comes out of the mouth of a liberal, chances are it’s completely wrong.

notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital | March 20, 2020 at 9:37 pm

Italian Virologist:

Fear Of Being Called Racist Contributed Factor To Spread Of Coronavirus In Italy

Coronavirus – China’s Secret Plan To Weaponize Viruses
By GreatGameIndia –
February 1, 2020

In a secret speech given to high-level Communist Party cadres nearly two decades ago, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Chi Haotian explained a long-range plan for ensuring a Chinese national renaissance.

“The ruling Chinese Communist Party considers biological weapons to be the most important weapons for accomplishing their goal of “cleaning up America.”

Chi credits Deng Xiaoping with putting biological weapons ahead of all other weapon systems in the Chinese arsenal: “When Comrade Xiaoping was still with us, the Party Central Committee had the perspicacity to make the right decision not to develop aircraft carrier groups and focus instead on developing lethal weapons that can eliminate mass populations of the enemy country.”

“…..the Communist Party must teach the Chinese people to “go out.” By this Gen. Chi meant the conquest of new lands in which a “second China” could be built by “colonization.” From this arises the third vital issue: the “issue of America.”

Gen. Chi warned his listeners: “This appears to be shocking, but the logic is actually very simple.” China is “in fundamental conflict with the Western strategic interest.” Therefore, the United States will never allow China to seize other countries to build a second China. The United States stands in China’s way.

Chi explained the problem as follows: “Would the United States allow us to go out to gain new living space? First, if the United States is firm in blocking us, it is hard for us to do anything significant to Taiwan, Vietnam, India, or even Japan, [so] how much more living space can we get? Very trivial! Only countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia have the vast land to serve our need for mass colonization.”

“We are not as foolish as to want to perish together with America by using nuclear weapons,” said the general. “Only by using non-destructive weapons that can kill many people will we be able to reserve America for ourselves.” The answer is found in biological weapons. “Of course,” he added, “we have not been idle, in the past years we have seized the opportunity to master weapons of this kind.”

Far too many people don’t quite understand the importance of this information. It’s easy to just say, “Oh, I don’t care if some idiot gets sick because they don’t have enough sense to wash their reusable bags.”

What many don’t realize is when those same customers put ~their~ filthy, germ-ridden bag down on the grocery counter to start in filling it, those germs get a free pass to jump onto the counter, and then to ~your~ bags and food. You’re not sharing their bags… but the net effect is almost the same in the end.

Darwin laughs.

What about money?
Cash goes from hand to hand to hand to hand, passing nasty stuff around all the time.

    Sonnys Mom in reply to Exiliado. | March 21, 2020 at 8:49 am

    Apparently the life of a coronavirus is considerably shorter when deposited on a porous surface like paper, cardboard or fabric. It lives a lot longer when deposited on hard, nonporous surfaces.

Another aspect to single use plastic bags is the ones newspapers come in to your door in the suburbs. How many folks will take the NY Times if it comes as a sodden lump every time it rains. Those newspaper bags are also widely used if you have a dog. Without them you will just have to go buy specialty single use plastic bags for dogs.

    Sonnys Mom in reply to jb4. | March 21, 2020 at 8:46 am

    The same with the lightweight plastic grocery bags that are now banned. They also work perfectly as liners for small wastebaskets.

    Milhouse in reply to jb4. | March 22, 2020 at 2:42 am

    Even if/when the ban comes into effect newspapers will still come in plastic bags.

So I got coffee this morning at the fauxbux kiosk in a grocery store, and after swiping my card through it, the barrista wipes down the entire surface “except” where my card actually went through. I never touched the keypad. I am glad these people never applied to brain surgery school.

I used to earn karma by tossing peoples papers up onto their porch from the sidewalk. But now I am karma challenged.

Morning Sunshine | March 21, 2020 at 8:35 am

I have a couple of stores here that keep their empty medium to small boxes by the register. That is what I use when it is a choice. Much better than either paper or plastic bags, since the food stays packed where I put it and doesn’t fall out. I can crush it when I get home and either add it to the garden for mulch, give it to my children who have all sorts of use for boxes, or recycle it. I almost never remember to bring back my reusable bags

Why does the virus photo look like a Christmas ornament??? 🙂

We live in the countryside, 5 miles from the nearest town. It’s dominated by liberals who have the usual endless need to signal their virtue, so they banned “single use” plastic bags as of January 1st and implemented a paper bag fee.

It was typical “progressive” stupidity. I attended the meeting where they approved the ban. These people simply will not listen. The ban doesn’t do a damn thing for the environment; in fact, when you look closely at the details, it actually degrades the environment, albeit in a minor way.

This was all directed at the town’s sole grocery store. A week ago, that store banned the use of reusable bags for the duration of the epidemic and announced that paper sacks would be free.

Prior to that, I’d ordered 1,000 plastic bags from Amazon for $17.40 and declared myself part of the local resistance. But because mine are coming from home, I’m having to use the free paper sacks for the time being. It makes no sense as it applies to me, but it’s a small town and the store is doing the best it can to navigate the craziness so I haven’t argued it at all.

In fact, I’ve gone out of my way to thank the people working there for their efforts during a tough period. As stupid as this all is, it’s not their fault. They’re only doing what they’re told, and they don’t deserve any kind of hassle.

That said, nothing is more sanitary than the banned plastic bags. This has been reported in a number of studies, something I pointed out at the earlier meeting. But there is an Iron Law at work: “You can always tell a ‘progressive,’ but you can never tell a ‘progressive’ a single god damned thing. They think they know everything.”

    For decades we have used plastic grocery store bags lined with their paper bags to securely and safely carry the groceries; and then use the combo in a kitchen wastebasket for garbage. When full, we tie the plastic handles to create a nice self-contained unit in the garbage pail for the garbage man. Safety – “A+”; Hygiene – “A”; Climate – “Immaterial”.

      RandomCrank in reply to jb4. | March 21, 2020 at 6:23 pm

      The grocery store bags aren’t big enough or strong enough for our kitchen garbage pail, but we reuse them in lots of other ways including small wastebaskets. Studies on these bags show that they have a small positive net environmental impact relative to anything else. But you can never tell that to a virtue-signaling “progressive.” They really hate facts.

Went grocery shopping today, brought my bags home and sprayed them all with Lysol, which, incidentally, kills coronavirus. It’s right on the label.

Personally, I am always a little skeeved out to see some misguided shopper toss dripping packages of raw chicken and blood-oozing ground beef packages into their “earth-friendly” shopping totes. People using these totes typically don’t use the provided plastic(!) bags to contain such leakage, and these totes are then loaded up with fresh fruit and vegetables, loosely wrapped bakery or deli items (no plastic!), and etc.

Ugh. That’s disgusting. I’m glad I’ve never seen it. Even the (now suspended) NY bag ban has an exception for that. Though unfortunately many supermarkets have already got rid of the plastic bags and are not bringing them back.

So now, every shopper drags in more home bags to save 5 or ten cents, along with whatever is stuck on them.