Progressive California has warned about the dangers of single-use plastic bags for years and lectured on how everyone needs to use reusable bags. In an ironic twist, the government of California is now warning about the dangers of reusable bags and encouraging everyone in the state to use plastic bags.
In 2007, San Francisco became the first large city in the U.S. to ban single-use plastic bags. On March 31, San Francisco reversed its plastic bag ban because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The city barred from citizens from using reusable bags because it posed a health concern.
In September 2014, California became the first state to enact legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. The state also levied a 10-cent charge for buying paper or plastic bags.
On Thursday, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order suspending the state's plastic bag ban for 60 days. Plastic and paper bags will be free to customers and won't be subjected to the 10-cent fee the state previously charged.
The executive order also allows grocery stores to temporarily stop accepting recycled bottles and cans that they transport to recycling centers.
The order said it is "critical to protect the public health and safety and minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure for workers engaged in essential activities, such as those handling reusable grocery bags or recyclable containers where recycling centers are not available."
The executive order does not apply to the more than 100 jurisdictions in California that have had their own plastic bag bans in effect before 2015.
On March 25, Massachusetts lifted local bans on grocery stores using plastic bags in an effort to combat coronavirus fears.
The California Grocers Association had concerns about shoppers bringing their reusable bags from home and having store clerks handle the potentially infected bags.
"We are being cautious to make sure there is no transmission of the virus," Dave Heylen, the communications vice president for the California Grocers Association said.
Meghan May, a professor of microbiology and infectious disease at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, said grocery store workers are most at risk of contracting COVID-19 from reusable bags.
"They have to touch [the reusable bag], handle it and pack things into it, and then they have to then turn around and do that with the next customer that comes in their line," May told The Verge. "The person at least risk is the person who owns the bag."
Last year, Gov. Newsom signed the country's first state law banning hotels from using small single-use plastic containers for shampoo and other toiletries. California also proposed a measure to prohibit takeout meal containers and plastic detergent bottles. California politicians also introduced a bill that would phase out all single-use plastics by 2030.
Today, plastic bags are legalized, but who knows, maybe one day plastic straws could be decriminalized in California, where repeat offenders face a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail.