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Plastic Bag Reduction Efforts Ease During Pandemic


As efforts are made to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, many individuals have stopped bringing reusable bags to the store and some businesses are discouraging the use of these bags as well

“Where I live in Moab, our town has a plastic bag ban on all businesses, so 2.25 mil or smaller in size, were previously not allowed to be used in any business in our town. And now that has been relaxed because of COVID-19," said Professor Roslynn Brain McCann, a Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist at Utah State University.


McCann is disappointed that disposable plastic is being used so readily during the pandemic. Previously, she said almost half the people she saw at her local grocery store would bring their own bags. It’s a different story now. 

“I'm concerned about people resorting back to their old habits of depending on bags from the store and purchasing over packaged goods," McCann said. "Because these are habits that we've been trained to be immersed in, and now there are our general operating procedures.”

While many people have stopped bringing reusable bags to stores because of the pandemic, and some stores have even requested this practice, it is unclear if the concern that reusable bags could spread the virus are valid. However, single use plastic only requires a one way transfer of goods, while a reusable bag requires workers to handle outside items.

“I'm only aware of one study so far that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found that the virus could stay viable on plastic for up to three days in lab conditions," McCann said. "This includes reusable bags made  of plastic, but also single use disposable bags. The study didn't look into how the virus base fares on fabrics. So right now it's uncertain whether plastic bags are better than reusable when it comes to reducing the spread of COVID-19”

In northern Utah, city officials have been working to implement a plastic management plan that was originally going to start in April and was then pushed back to later in the summer. Mayor Holly Daines said implementation is now on hold as she and other city leaders address concerns related to mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.

Editor's Note: An earlier web version of this story and the audio version of this story incorrectly identified the professor's last name. This has been corrected.