On Thursday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to suspend the 2016 plastic bag ban for 60 days out of COVID-19 coronavirus concerns.
The law, which started out as Senate Bill 270 in 2015 and later as Proposition 67 in 2016, was created to reduce pollution and to encourage reusable bag use. While plastic bags are still available for ten cents, they can no longer be given without approval from each customer.
The new executive order does not cover the more than 100 cities and towns in California that have their own plastic bag laws, but many are expected to follow regardless due to the coronavirus emergency.
Recycling in California was also put in a flux due to the executive order as beverage containers cannot be redeemed in stores for 60 days and recycling centers now have to legally operate for a minimum number of hours during the crisis to make up for the increased number of bags and containers.
Food store groups and employees largely praised Newsom’s executive order. While many noted disappointment in having to use plastic bags more for the next few months, the impact and concern for employees was noted.
“We don’t know where reusable bags have been or who touched them or anything,” noted Matt Cahill, a supermarket section manager in Fresno. “We’re being exposed enough as is right now, and this lowers our risk of catching anything. And, in turn, that makes customers safer too.”
“Newsom’s executive order highlighted worker safety in his executive order.”
“These are 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,” noted Newsom in his order.
However, others have come out in opposition, most notably environmental and consumer groups who had originally pushed for the ban four years ago. Some groups, such as Californians Against Waste, noted that the bags pose no threat, and that, under state regulations, employees don’t even have to touch them.
“Reusable bags are perfectly safe, and pose zero threat to store employees and other customers as long as consumers take responsibility to bag their own groceries,” said Californians Against Waste Executive Director Mark Murray in a statement. “Retailers, while maybe well intended, inflicted this costly and unnecessary wound on themselves by discouraging consumers from bringing their own bags. The simple and safe solution for consumers and stores is for everyone to bring their reusable bags and bag their own groceries in line with Cal-OSHA guidelines.”
Revised OSHA guidelines for coronavirus specifically state that store workers can ask customers to bag their own groceries or simply leave out the bag so they don’t have to touch it.
The plastic bag ban is only temporary and will be back into effect starting on June 23rd.