California Lifts Ban on Plastic Bags Amid Virus Concerns

The Four Percent

Retailers in California can once again hand out free single-use plastic bags under an executive order announced on Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the latest turn away from reusable bags amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter to Mr. Newsom last month, the associations requested a suspension of the plastic bag ban until Covid-19 is no longer a significant threat to the state. “This is a laudatory environmental policy, but it is simply not appropriate to expect our employees to handle and load customers’ used grocery bags at this time,” the groups wrote.

So long as customers do this, “reusable bags are perfectly safe, and pose zero threat to store employees and other customers,” he said in an email. He said he believed that while retailers had good intentions, they were inflicting a “costly and unnecessary wound” on themselves as well as the environment by discouraging reusable bags and agreeing to give out plastic bags at no cost. In 2007, a decade before the bag ban, California grocers distributed around 68 million single-use bags — a vast majority of them plastic — a day, he said.

The conservancy also pointed out there was no research to support the idea that reusable bags are any more contaminated than other supermarket surfaces.

In some parts of California, the plastic bag ban may persist; the executive order does not apply to around 150 jurisdictions with their own local restrictions on single-use carryout bags. Mr. Fong of the California Grocers Association said that he hoped those localities would comply with the executive order anyway.

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