Today the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) released a report urging state and local governments to end bans and restrictions on single-use plastics, like shopping bags and utensils, as a way of helping people protect themselves from COVID-19 spread.
“Bans on single use plastics are largely symbolic actions that reduce consumer choice, pose public health risks, and fail to achieve environmental goals,” said Angela Logomasini, CEI senior fellow and author of the report. “State and local governments should roll back all such regulations and allow consumers and retailers to decide which options best meet their needs.”
The report cites several studies on the transmission of viruses and bacteria via reusable shopping bags, which come into contact with many surfaces and which consumers tend not to wash frequently. One study, for example, found “large numbers of bacteria,” including dangerous fecal bacteria such as coliform, E. coli, and salmonella on 99 percent of reusable bags. Single-use bags, by contrast, did not show evidence of contamination or transmission.
During the past several years, state and local governments have passed bans on single-use plastics. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, lawmakers have started to suspend those bans due to transmission concerns. Looking ahead, it’s important to realize such risks will continue long after the COVID-19 crisis ends or tapers off, the report emphasizes.
The report also delves into the scant environmental benefits of these plastics bans. For example, energy and other resources used to make reusable bags may greatly offset any environmental benefits and, ironically, produce more landfill waste. A study produced for the Environment Agency in the United Kingdom found that cotton bags would have to be used 131 times before they yielded environmental benefits. That’s a lot of grocery store outings.