To Slow Viral Spread, Ban the Plastic Bans

By Daily Editorials

March 27, 2020 4 min read

Stop charging special fees for disposable plastic shopping bags. Stop prohibiting or discouraging plastic shopping bags, plastic straws and plastic coffee stirrers. In the pandemic and post-pandemic world, the war on plastic must end.

Fashionably woke anti-plastic regulations begin with environmental activists telling consumers and lawmakers that disposables are an environmental crisis. On the surface, it sounds pretty sensible. The Gazette editorial board long ago encouraged consumers to shop with reusable bags. We did not know then what we know today.

We see ugly disposable bags caught in trees. Occasionally, we see a meme featuring a sea turtle or other form of aqua life tangled in a bag. The photos are heart-wrenching and could lead anyone to embrace the simple habit of carrying reusable cloth and/or synthetic bags in the trunk of the car.

Reusable bags have other advantages. They are sturdier than disposables and can hold more merchandise.

Most people get the movement toward reusable bags and efforts to discourage or forbid disposable plastic. It doesn't take a member of Greenpeace to go along with it.

Yet, the coronavirus pandemic teaches a lot we never knew. We've learned about irrational human anxiety regarding toiletry supplies. We have learned about the frailties of the supply chain we count on to survive. We have learned how to eat at home.

Mostly, we have learned details about the transmission of germs.

As it turns out, reusable bags are notorious sanctuaries for viruses and bacteria. By using them, we threaten the health of retail clerks. A 2018 article in the Journal of Environmental Health explains how a virus introduced to reusable bags found its way onto "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."

Reusable bag viral concerns are so intense they led Gov. Jared Polis — whose environmental cred is not in question — to ask for a moratorium on disposable bag fees. It was so important he included the request in his declaration of an emergency statewide stay-at-home order.

The Colorado Legislature, before the virus struck, considered House Bill 1163 to prohibit "stores and retail food establishments... from providing single-use plastic carryout bags, single-use plastic stirrers, single-use plastic straws, and expanded polystyrene food service products" at any point of sale.

Legislators need to scrap that idea.

We don't need another pandemic. By banning disposable straws and bags, we necessitate reusable straws and bags. In doing so, we promote the spread of illnesses. Bag and straw bans and fees should be summarily rescinded in the midst of this virus.

In doing so, we can take comfort in a recent study that found bag regulations do little to save the planet from plastic waste. A study by the University of Sydney Australia, published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, found consumers reuse disposable bags as trash can liners and for other purposes. Bag regulations shift consumers to buying heavier plastic bags and eliminate reuse "in a way that avoided the manufacture and purchase of another plastic bag."

Nearly everyone meant well in trying to end the use of disposable plastic bags, straws, stirrers and containers. The pandemic forces us to scrutinize our actions for the sake of human survival. The prohibition of disposable plastics does not hold up to due diligence. It's time to ban the plastic ban to reduce the spread of disease.

REPRINTED FROM THE COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE

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