Due to the coronavirus pandemic many cities have relaxed bans on single-use plastic bags and have discouraged reusable bags. Initially many grocery stores were quick to ban reusable bags. However, as the science is beginning to show, your clean reusable grocery bag, packed by you is the safer option.
A recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine has shown that the virus can remain viable on inert surfaces, with varying lengths of time depending on the surface. Four hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard, 48 hours on stainless steel and up to 72 hours on plastic. “The plastic bag industry has lost a lot of ground and is now running around [saying] that single-use plastics are more hygienic than reusable bags, and I have to say that is a claim that is not evidence-based and feeds on people’s anxieties,” said Jane Muncke, managing director of the NGO Food Packaging Forum, at a webinar earlier this week. Another study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that the novel coronavirus can remain on plastics and stainless steel surfaces for up to three days, and on cardboard for up to one day. It has become clear that people are under the false assumption that single use plastic or paper is safer than a clean reusable bag during the pandemic.
As scientists continue to tackle these questions, many retailers and grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Target are letting customers use their own bags if they sack groceries themselves.
If you want to err on the side of caution and continue to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment, here are a few simple tips to keep you safe:
Wash your reusable bags. Soap and hot water have proven to be very effective at tackling the virus. Machine or hand washing is effective. Spraying the outside and inside of the bag with alcohol (70% or higher is best) or a disinfectant and wiping with a clean cloth will do the trick on bags that are not machine washable.
Wash plastic packaging. If you buy fruits and vegetables in plastic, wash the outside of the package as soon as you can. Fruits and vegetables without packaging can be simply washed with a biodegradable soap like Dr. Bonners or Mrs. Meyers.
During this health crisis, our decisions should be based on science and the advice of health professionals, not on lobbyists from the fossil fuel and plastics industries. Zero-waste specialist Bea Johnson summed it up : “With disposable products, you have no idea who has touched them. With your own reusable containers, you know who touched them!”
For strong reusable bags that have a waterproof interior and sturdy exterior, check out the collection of jute bags at NewBlueBags. They have a waterproof lining to allow your bags to be sprayed out with water or wiped clean on the inside. Their bags may also be sanitized by spraying the interior and exterior with rubbing alcohol.