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Reusable shopping bags are back

On Friday, July 10, Governor Baker rescinded his temporary order suspending all local shopping bag laws and banning the use of reusable bags. 

It is open to argument if the temporary order, put in place on March 25th, was ever necessary in the first place. At best, it may have been a decision to err on the side of caution given how little was known about the COVID-19 virus at the time. 

However, most scientists found little or no evidence to support such an order. For example, research published in multiple respected national medical journals including the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Hospital Infection demonstrated that the corona pathogen can linger on plastic for two or three days and on paper for about 24 hours. So the idea that there was any advantage to substituting plastic or paper bags for reusable ones was questionable from the start. Indeed, public health officials now think surfaces present a small risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent update on transmission indicates that the virus spreads primarily through the infected respiratory droplets emitted during close contact with another person ( . Hence the continued need for face masks, which hopefully all residents are complying with in public places and when social distancing is not possible.

What I believe is clear (as many news outlets reported) is that the plastic industry took advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to attempt to roll back plastic bag legislation. This is an example of what political activist Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism”. That is, a deliberate corporate strategy for making money in a crisis. In support of this perspective, it is important to recall that the impetus for these orders suspending the use of reusable bags began with the Plastic Industry Association's lobbyists. It was their lobbyists that developed a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requesting that the agency issue a statement on what the association called “the health and safety benefits seen in single-use plastics.” When challenged by environmental organizations, they and other plastic industry lobby groups could offer no evidence in support of these unfounded health claims.

Every environmental problem is also a public health problem. Along these lines, as Peter Wang of rePurpose Global pointed out, we should not use one crisis as an excuse to amplify another. Thankfully, all retail and grocery stores in Medfield and other MA towns are allowing reusable bags again, so it is time to dust them off and bring them on shopping excursions.

Jackie Alford
Medfield Plastic Reduction Initiative

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