Written by: Margot Kelly
Approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced globally each year. In 2014, the U.S. alone consumed about 103.4 billion plastic bags. The functionality and low cost of single-use plastic bags has caused their popularity to increase, expanding plastic production along with it. However, in recent years, environmental organizations around the world (including Seaside Sustainability) have begun to combat the rise in plastic waste with legislation to ban various forms of plastic. As of 2019, bans on plastic bags have been enacted in 32 countries and as of November of 2020, eight states in the U.S. (including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont) have banned single-use plastic bags.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, sustainability endeavors to “ban the bag” and “save a straw” came to a standstill. Many towns and cities across the United States that had applied or were in the process of applying single-use plastic bans began to reconsider their legislation. Studies in transmission rates and prevention techniques had not yet been conducted and, rightfully so, most possible precautionary measures were taken. In many areas, this included the retraction of single-use plastic bag bans.
Certified research was limited and concern for the state of the pandemic was high, so the use of reusable bags was associated with a potentially higher risk of contamination and transmission. Since the early days of the pandemic in March 2020, this perception has been refuted. Public health professionals have determined that by safely washing and disinfecting them, reusable bags can safely be used with proper basic hygiene practices. This research has also shown that the COVID-19 virus can remain on surfaces for a varying period of time, depending on the material it is on. This is not limited to reusable items. Therefore, it can be inferred that any surface within a public space, reusable and disposable alike, has the potential to be contaminated. Disposable plastics are not necessarily safer for the consumer than their reusable alternatives.
While it is imperative that practices of sustainability and environmental advancements progress, safety must also be a priority during this difficult time. Although reusable and disposable bags are proven to be equivalent in terms of viral transmission, decisions about what to use should be made based on the recommendations of doctors, scientists, and community leaders. No matter the material of the bag you choose, be sure to follow the CDC guidelines for COVID-19 prevention to keep yourself and your community safe.