Eco Tip: Don’t Believe the Industry Hype About Reusable Bags

Marsha Low, Weavers Way Environment Committee

The plastic bag industry has been under attack and is on its way out. As the public becomes more aware of the dangers of plastic pollution to the environment and to aquatic and other living beings, more municipalities and states are passing at least partial bans on plastic bags.

But with the coronavirus crisis, the industry has seen a chance to undo these bans. (In Philadelphia, the plastic bag ban that was to take effect in July has now been delayed to January 1, 2021.) They are attempting to scare us into using plastic bags when we go shopping instead of cloth ones by calling reusable bags “virus-laden.” To quote an industry campaign that goes by the name “Bag the Ban,” “We don’t want millions of Americans bringing germ-filled reusable bags into retail establishments, putting the public and workers at risk.”

There is no evidence that the virus is spread by the use of reusable shopping bags. Despite this, some stores have banned their use. Thankfully, our Co-op has not; you just need to pack your own bags.

While studies are ongoing as to how long COVID-19 can live on various materials, here’s what I found: the virus can live up to three days on plastic (one article I read even claimed as long as seven days, but most stated three). In contrast, it lasts only from about three hours to, at most, two days (which I found stated in only one article) on cloth. If you’re super concerned, you could wash your shopping bags after using them after each trip (which is perhaps more important to do if your reusable bags are plastic instead of cloth). But you could also put your cloth bags aside for a few days before using them again.

If you happen to be an at-risk individual who orders groceries online from the Co-op and has them delivered or picked them up curbside, you can cut down on plastic bag use by requesting that your produce be put directly into cardboard boxes (on which the virus can live only for 24 hours) whenever possible. And here’s a reminder: There’s no evidence that you can get COVID-19 from food. Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot grow on food items, so it would be unlikely any viable virus could live on what you eat. And cooking will kill it, as do stomach acids.