Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order that temporarily allowed free plastic bags inside supermarkets and other stores expired this weekend, leading to an uncertain situation between consumers, environmentalists, and health experts.
The plastic bag ban resumes
Executive Order N-54-20 was signed by Governor Newsom in late April, allowing stores to temporarily waive fees and bans on plastic and paper carryout bags over reusable bags. The order, which had been put into place to limit coronavirus spread through stores, had also temporarily invalidated SB 270, the 2014 law that instituted the ban in the first place.
Despite a growing number of cases within California, the Order was not renewed or extended due to heightened store precautions, concerns about plastic pollution, a more difficult process of extension due to the state legislature coming back, and many other factors.
The return of reusable bags has had a varied response in California. Many environmental groups are happy with the change despite the risk of transmission.
“In the last two months, we’ve seen the same problems come up from ten years ago,” said Anise Solano, an East Bay environmentalist. “Bags are back blowing on the street, a lot of plastic is going in the trash. And we know it’s been done for health reasons, but it’s just so much waste. At least paper bags are biodegradable.
It’s good that this order is over. As long as people pack their own things at check out with reusable bags and perform easy, common sense measures, it will be fine.
We just can’t continue how we’ve been going though.”
Other environmentalists agreed.
“The discontinued use of reusable bags at many California retailers has resulted in a severe shortage of recycled paper bags and the temporary return of single-use plastic bags by some retailers,” said Mark Murray, an environmentalist with Californians Against Waste. “The quick return to the practice of bringing reusable bags will reduce an unnecessary source of plastic pollution, reduce grocery costs for stores and consumers, and relieve the shortage of recycled paper bags.”
Stores, medical experts unsure of decision to allow plastic bag ban to resume
Medical experts aren’t quite sure though.
“It was enacted for a reason,” noted Los Angeles nurse Gina Lopez, who has helped care for coronavirus patients. “Many transmissions we’ve seen were traced back to grocery stores and bodegas before the ban. And then it went down after it was in place.
It wasn’t fool-proof, but that added length of distancing through single-use bags was another layer of protection, especially at check-out areas where bags were placed. We should have kept it in place, at least until the number of new cases in California drops.”
Consumers have been caught in the middle, as safety, pollution concerns, and ease of shopping have led to many being unsure about either policy.
“Our customers tend to just go with changes, but we’ve heard complaints from people not liking the return of plastic bags, and those upset at using reusable,” said Burbank supermarket co-manager Steve Costa. “What we really want, and what customers really want, is a safe experience, but one where they can use their preferred method.
With plastic bags out again, we’ve found a middle ground where bags you can buy are at some checkouts, while reusable are only available at others. It’s kinda tailored to what you want, and we think that’s a good middle ground as things change,”
With the ban resuming this weekend, and no executive order replacement in sight, it is widely expected that stores will go back to reusable bags under heightened conditions, with state lawmakers possibly coming up with a similar temporary ban reversal if coronavirus rates continue to go up.