San Francisco: About that Plastic Bag Ban? Never Mind

People who are unfortunate enough to live in a community that bans plastic bags at the supermarket are familiar with the arguments that environmentalists offer to support such. Plastic bags wind up lasting forever in landfills or, worse, the ocean where they float forever, killing fish. Besides, plastic is derived from petroleum and we all know that the oil companies are inherently evil.

Mind, most supermarkets where plastic bags are still allowed have receptacles where the environmentally minded can leave their used bags for recycling. Besides, plastic that winds up in the ocean tends to originate from East Asia, particularly China.

Indeed, a study cited by the Daily Signal noted that plastic bag bans have proven to be ineffective in cleaning up the environment from plastic pollution.

“A study in Australia by University of Sydney economist Rebecca Taylor demonstrated that bans on plastic shopping bags do not significantly cut down on waste; more people buy thick garbage bags to line their trash cans after the bans are put in place.”

Don’t even mention to environmentalists good, old fashioned paper shopping bags. Paper is derived from wood which comes from trees that the evil lumber industry chops down. Never mind that trees are a renewable resource that sucks up excess carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

No, people who like to environmentally virtue signal put their vegan food into reusable cloth bags. (But doesn’t the production of cloth bags have a big carbon footprint? Err, shut up, you environmental rapist!)

Anyway, that was then, and this is now. With the coming of the coronavirus pandemic, even the most environmentally addled have noticed that cloth bags, unless they are constantly washed (more carbon footprint) become purveyors of disease, Hence, as Reason Magazine notes, San Francisco, that charming feces-covered city by the bay, thanks to its homeless problem, has now banned cloth bags.

“The world really has turned upside down. In 2007 San Francisco became the first large city in the country to ban single-use plastic bags. Now, as part of its effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, the city is banning the reusable tote bags it’s spent over a decade promoting. Last week, the San Francisco Department of Health published an update to its guidelines for the city’s already strict shelter-in-place order. These new guidelines include social distancing protocols that so-called essential businesses must follow when applicable. Included in the protocol section on preventing unnecessary contact is a directive for businesses to prohibit customers from bringing their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home.”

San Francisco is not the only community to discover that those reusable tote bags are disease carriers. New York and Maine have instituted holds on their recently passed plastic bag bans. A ban on plastic bags being mulled in the New Hampshire state legislature has become stuck in committee.

As it turns out, the science has been settled (to coin an often-misused phrase) about how dirty cloth bags can get.

“In one study …. published in the Journal of Environmental Health in 2018, researchers planted a surrogate virus on the bags of three shoppers who went into grocery stores. After they bought their groceries and checked out, researchers found the virus on the hands of the shoppers and checkout clerks, as well as on many surfaces touched by the shoppers, including packaged food, unpackaged produce, shopping carts, checkout counters, and the touch screens used to pay for groceries.”

A person who brings a cloth tote bag to carry home groceries could pass the coronavirus to the clerk who puts the food in the bag. If the clerk has the virus, then it can be passed along to the customer. If a bag touches a surface that is contaminated, it can pick up the disease.

Reason has some suggestions about how freedom of choice can help to alleviate fears of transmitting disease. Those of us who prefer the convenience of disposable plastic bags should be allowed to do so. If, however, people prefer reusable bags, they should be diligent about washing them after every use. They should be given the option of packing their own groceries at the checkout line, say at a self-service line.

Reason concludes, rather adroitly, “It’s fashionable to say that there are no libertarians in a pandemic. Yet preserving freedom of choice, even about the small things like which bag to use at the grocery store, allows people and businesses to react more nimbly to uncertain risks.”