In wake of the coronavirus pandemic, liberal San Francisco has banned the use of reusable grocery bags.
Usually on the progressive forefront of “green” initiatives, this is quite a 180 degree turn from the city that has a 60 foot mural of Greta Thunberg.
Politico reports in the latest sign of how dramatically the coronavirus pandemic is altering the social landscape, even the liberal San Francisco Bay Area this week banned reusable grocery bags as a sanitary measure, dismaying recycling advocates who say durable sacks should still be allowed at stores.
The provision was among a host of lifestyle changes imposed Tuesday by six Bay Area counties in a rewrite of their first-in-the-nation March 16 order that required millions of residents to shelter at home. The counties have been credited with taking early actions that may have helped slow the spread in California.
The Bay Area counties reduced the types of businesses and facilities that can stay open to the public and tightened requirements for those still operating, including grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants still open for takeout or delivery. Among the updated requirements in the order, which lasts through May 3: “Not permitting customers to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home.”
The rule appears to be the most stringent coronavirus-related restriction placed on reusable bags in California, which has banned single-use plastic bags since 2016. California allows the 70 or so jurisdictions whose local bans preceded the state ban, including most of the Bay Area, Los Angeles County and Sacramento County, to preempt state law.
California has aggressively moved toward reusable containers in an effort to reduce plastic consumption. Gov. Gavin Newsom last year signed the nation’s first state law banning hotels from using small single-use plastic containers for shampoo and other toiletries. State lawmakers have also worked on bills that would phase out single-use plastic by 2030 in California.
But the coronavirus has altered the state’s environmental march. Bottled water has flown off store shelves, while some fear the coronavirus will hinder efforts to build high-density housing near transit. Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee, which have coffee shops across Northern California, stopped refilling customers’ mugs earlier this month in favor of paper cups.
The plastics industry has lobbied on the federal level and in New York, New Jersey and other states, asserting that often-unwashed reusable bags are hotbeds for the coronavirus, which early research suggests can remain on surfaces. But so far, there hasn’t been evidence of industry lobbying in California.
Recycling advocates said they would prefer a statewide policy that says customers can still bring their bags into stores, but grocery employees don’t have to fill them.