In coronavirus, industry sees the chance of undoing plastic bag bans

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They are “petri dishes for bacteria and carriers of harmful pathogens,” read one warning from a plastic industry group. They are “virus-laden.”

The target group? Reusable shopping bags that countless Americans are increasingly using instead of disposable plastic bags.

The plastic bag industry, battered by a nationwide banning wave, is using the coronavirus crisis to try to block laws banning single-use plastics. “We simply do not want millions of Americans carrying reusable germ-packed bags at retail establishments putting the public and workers at risk,” an industry campaign that goes by the name of the Ban Bag announced Tuesday, cites a Boston Herald column showing some of them. group talking points.

The Association of the Plastics Industry also expresses the repeal of the ban on plastic bags. Last week, a letter was sent to the United States Department of Health and Human Services requesting the department publicly declare that banning the use of plastic during a pandemic is a health threat.

“We demand that the department speak out against bans on these products as a public safety risk,” the industry group wrote. He said the agency should “help stop the rush of banning such products by environment and elected officials who put consumers and workers at risk.”

The science around reusable bags and their potential to spread disease is controversial. Research often cited by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University has found that reusable plastic bags can contain bacteria and that users don’t wash reusable bags very often. The study was funded, however, by the American Chemistry Council, which represents the largest plastics and chemicals manufacturers. The study recommends that buyers simply wash reusable bags, not replace them.

Another episode is cited in the plastic groups based on a news article about a girls’ soccer team that went down with the norovirus after one of the athletes spread the virus to his teammates. The surface of a reusable shopping bag in hotel rooms tested positive for the virus.

Environmental experts insist that single-use plastics can still harbor viruses and bacteria that are picked up by manufacturers, transporters, bars or use. A study by the US National Institutes of Health found novel coronavirus can remain on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to three days and on cardboard for up to a day. Still, simply disposing of the bag would be safer in this case, according to proponents of single-use plastic.

What is clear, however, is that single-use plastic bans have become a growing threat for the plastics industry. Packaging, including single-use packaging, makes about a third of end-use demand for plastic resins as a whole, according to the American Chemistry Council. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the nationwide movement for plastic bag bans occurred in California, Hawaii, New York, and cities such as Boston; Boulder, Colorado; Chicago; Los Angeles; Ashes of France; and Seattle.

Even before the outbreak of the virus, a group of financed industries worked with local lawmakers to block local action to reduce plastic, to propose legislation designed to ban bans on bags, boxes, cups, and bottles to protect business and consumer choices. . .

But now disposability, once a dirty word, has become a selling point as hygiene takes priority over sustainability. Starbucks and Dunkin stopped accepting cups of responsibility because of concerns about transmission. And bottled water, disposable plastic gloves, masks and other plastic products are flying in store shelves.

Delays in banning plastic bags are already underway. Last week, lawmakers in Maine voted to push back plastic bag bans in the state until next year as part of a package of emergency coronavirus measures. Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire issued an emergency health order requiring stores to use single-use paper or plastic store bags to prevent new infections. On Wednesday, the Charlie Baker Government of Massachusetts temporarily banned the use of reusable research bags and required stores to pay for plastic or paper bags.

In New York, John Flanagan, the top Republican in the state Senate, called for the state this month to suspend the ban on plastic bags that went into effect March 1. Enforcement of the ban has already been delayed pending a legal challenge unrelated to the virus.

Some grocery chains have moved forward with their own ban on reusable bags. Mid-West grocery chain Hy-Vee said it was no longer accepting reusable bags in stores. Price Chopper said on Twitter that it was phasing out plastic bags back in use at its stores in New York.

The findings released this month by research firm BloombergNEF predicted that concerns around food hygiene could increase overall plastic packaging use, “undoing some of the early progress made by companies” in reducing plastic waste.

But the long-term effect on the industry depends on whether the move to prevent plastic bag bans is becoming more permanent, says Julia Attwood, head of advanced materials at BloombergNEF. “I think if this is seen as a limited emergency measure, then there won’t be much of an effect on long-term demand for plastic,” he said.

Here are other market factors to play, he said. Because plastic is from fossil fuels, plastic prices follow oil prices – which have dropped. This makes plastic recycling less economical.

Meanwhile, “alternatives are not ready, and people are suddenly more concerned about hygiene than they are about the potential impact on the environment of plastic,” he said. “We’re in a little bit of a perfect storm.”