Australian Citizens Party formerly Citizens Electoral Council

Stop reusable shopping bags to reduce COVID-19 epidemic

- Citizens Party Media Release

Reusable shopping bags pose a real danger to public health and must be banned, particularly given the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). This crisis is a reminder that the benefits of so-called “single-use” plastic bags—which were never truly single-use—included hygiene, not merely convenience.

Several recent studies confirm that that the virus responsible for COVID-19, officially known as “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2), may last for several days on hard surfaces such as plastic. In February the Journal of Hospital Infection published a review of 22 studies and concluded that “human coronaviruses can remain infectious on inanimate surfaces for up to 9 days”. Medical experts have warned for years of the public health danger of reusable grocery bags, but most politicians have turned a deaf ear. Given the COVID-19 crisis, it’s beyond time to return to the hygienic single-use plastic bag.

It should be common sense that shopping bags used dozens or hundreds of times—resting at the checkout—can leave any number of pathogens behind. Despite medical experts’ warnings, governments and corporations seeking to boast their “sustainable” credentials have ploughed ahead regardless. COVID-19 must be the wake-up call to reverse this regressive policy based on environmental lies, myths and distortions.

The current bag regime risks the health of checkout staff, who are constantly handling reused bags potentially contaminated with all sorts of pathogens arising from old meat juices and other organic matter. Pathogens are easily passed on to customers. And at self-serve checkouts, have you pondered how many dirty bags have sat on the weighing scales before you place your bags on this surface? Many of these bags sit on the pavement as people wait outside at a bus stop etc., and then are often placed on the kitchen bench!

Now with the COVID-19 outbreak, the health consequences are much more alarming. In the USA, New York state Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan urged on 11 March that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation suspend the plastic bag ban to protect New Yorkers from the continuing spread of coronavirus. The New York plastic bag ban only just came into effect on 1 March, at the worst possible time! Flanagan cited a recent warning from Professor Robert Kimmel from Clemson University’s Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Sciences Department. Prof. Kimmel is so concerned that he contacted the NY State Department of Health and numerous elected officials, urging at the very least to postpone the bag ban until the threat of coronavirus has passed. A growing chorus of scientists are warning of this danger, but most US elected officials are turning a deaf ear. Tragically, this is also the case in Australia.

The risk of virus transmission through reusable bags is not hypothetical. For example, in 2012 in the US state of Oregon, public health officials confirmed that six members of a girls’ soccer team had contracted gastroenteritis from a reusable shopping bag that had been contaminated with norovirus. The 8 September 2017 San Diego Reader reported evidence that a hepatitis A outbreak which infected hundreds of people and killed 15, had resulted from the city’s plastic bag ban.

A 2 November 2012 research paper, “Grocery Bag Bans and Foodborne Illness” by Professors of Law Jonathan Klick of the University of Pennsylvania and Joshua D. Wright of George Mason University, concluded that bag bans in the United States were already having an alarming health consequence: “We examine deaths and emergency room admissions related to … [harmful bacteria such as E. coli] in the wake of the San Francisco ban. We find that both deaths and ER visits spiked as soon as the ban went into effect.”

Australian officials can’t plead ignorance to the Klick-Wright study. The Canberra Times reported it on 8 February 2013 following the ACT’s bag ban. The article noted, “most shoppers [in Arizona and California] did not use separate bags for meat and vegetables, did not wash reusable grocery bags, and often stored them in car boots, resulting in the growth of bacteria”.

Most media have ignored the risk of reusable bags spreading coronavirus, but an article by City Journal contributing editor John Tierney documents the real danger. The New York Post republished Tierney’s article. The Citizens Party previously issued a health warning on the plastic bag ban in the 13 June 2018 issue of the Australian Alert Service. This warning is now more urgent than ever—the bag ban must end now!

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