Plastics industry goes after bag bans during pandemic

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Plastics industry goes after bag bans during pandemic

A person who carries plastic bags. | AP photo

NEW YORK – Advocates of plastic bags see an opportunity in the pandemic that is turning almost every American into a germaphobe that eats hand sanitizers.

POLITICO received a copy of a letter that the Plastics Industry Association sent the U.S. Department of Health last week to request a ministerial statement confirming the idea that single-use plastics are the safest choice in the midst of the pandemic.

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“We urge the department to speak out against bans on these products as a risk to public safety and to stop the rush to ban these products from environmentalists and elected officials who put consumers and workers at risk,” the industry group wrote.

In New York, New Jersey, and other states, the plastics industry and some Republican lawmakers are calling for rollbacks or easing bans on disposable plastic bags, arguing that unwashed reusable bags are often hotbeds of the corona virus.

“The most important thing is not to expose the front-end grocery store to unnecessary risk,” said Matt Seaholm, general manager of the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, which represents the plastic bag industry and is an independent branch of the Plastics industry association. “Grocery stores are one of the few places that stay open, and there is no need to enforce a pocket ban policy when there are much more important things to deal with.”

Environmentalists and advocates of plastic bans are attacking the campaigns to weaken the highly competitive measures.

“It’s the industry version of toilet paper hoarding,” said John Hocevar, ocean campaign manager at Greenpeace USA. “This type of approach is essentially cynical, selfish, and opportunistic at a time when most people are thinking about how we can work together to achieve this.”

Eight states ban disposable plastic bags, but hundreds of communities across the country have taken action. Now some jurisdictions are rethinking these bans, at least for the foreseeable future.

Chris Sununu, governor of New Hampshire prohibited buyers from reusing reusable bags in shops to ordering new paper or plastic bags. Maine delayed a bag ban that was scheduled for April 22.

The Massachusetts Food Association too required temporary suspension of local bans on plastic bags. Coast-to-coast communities have followed or considered this example.

A nationwide ban came into effect in New York on March 1, but enforcement was delayed and then postponed to May 15 as the courts were effectively closed earlier this month. Commissioner for the Environment, Basil Seggos declined a push by John Flanagan, minority leader of the New York Senate, to suspend the ban due to the pandemic.

“DEC continues to encourage New Yorkers to switch to reusable bags anytime, anywhere, and to take reasonable precautions to keep their reusable bags clean,” said department spokeswoman Erica Ringewald in a statement. “New York’s ban on single-use plastic bags came into effect on March 1, as planned. Retailers across the state are abiding by it.”

GrowNYC’s Greenmarket vendors have been informed by management that the ban on plastic bags has been delayed and it has been recommended not to touch reusable bags to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Some major grocery stores are bringing plastic back in New York amid a paper supply crisis and an increase in buyers, including Price Chopper / Market 32 ​​stores. according to the Watertown Daily Times.

Research has shown that reusable bags can transmit viruses. A study from 2010 Loma Linda University and the University of Arizona found that the concentration of bacteria on reusable bags was significant enough to cause health problems. This study was partially funded by the American Chemistry Council.

Ryan Sinclair, associate professor at Loma Linda University, was a co-author of this study and also the lead author of additional research cited of those who call for a rollback of bans on plastic bags.

Sinclair’s research included spraying bags with a virus simulator and wiping surfaces to see where they landed. Most of the material was found on the hands of grocery store employees, at the cash register, and on the handles of the shopping cart.

Sinclair told POLITICO in an interview that he supports plastic bans and simple safety measures for the use of reusable bags in normal times – especially by disinfecting the bags, washing hands, and not putting bags on conveyor belts or passing them on to employees.

“At a time when you can’t really rely on everyone to behave so well, I would say just give them a disposable bag. It also protects grocery workers,” said Sinclair. “The virus is real.” sticky “… and even more difficult to disinfect than other viruses.”

The virus that causes Covid-19 can be recognized on plastic surfaces For up to 72 hours, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week.

“Anything you bring to a public place these days … that can transmit the virus,” said Sinclair. “It could be your handbag, it could be other objects that move you and touch surfaces.”

Jennifer Coffey, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, argued that the studies are extremely limited and do not apply to reusable bags or real conditions.

“Using the corona virus, a global pandemic to promote plastic pollution, is frightening and incomprehensible,” she said. “I think it’s really irresponsible to pretend that there is a science that doesn’t currently exist.”

In New Jersey, where state legislation has to hand over an invoice The ban on single-use plastic bags, 54 municipalities and a district have enacted regulations that restrict their use.

So when Stafford Township declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus lifted its restrictions on plastic bags that it had enacted in 2018. The Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills and Borough of Atlantic Highlands also suspended their plastic bag bans.

New Jersey MP John DiMaio (R-Warren) released a statement Tuesday push Grocery stores to temporarily ban the use of reusable bags and his colleague Harold Wirths (R-Sussex) made a statement calling for the government proposed billreckless. ”

Linda Doherty, president of the New Jersey Food Council, sent one letter from March 19-32, where these regulations require them to suspend measures for the duration of the public health emergency and for 30 days thereafter, so that retailers “respond to increased food supply requirements and adequately fill compliant bags can”.

In her letter, it was pointed out that Governor Phil Murphy’s executive ordinances on the implementation of a state of emergency and social distancing measures said that no community should enforce regulations that contradict or interfere with the orders.

Bradley Beach Mayor Gary Engelstad received Doherty’s letter by email last week.

“I am extremely sensitive to the additional difficulties that companies face [face]”He said to POLITICO, adding that he had contacted some local business owners who all said they were fine with bags.” If the governor says do it, I would do it, but they do Motivation doesn’t come from the governor’s office now. It comes from a lobby organization. “

While ANJEC’s Coffey said that she uses her reusable bags when shopping and disinfects them with bleach spray when she gets home, Doherty said that store staff cannot guarantee that all customers will effectively clean their reusable bags after each use, a concern from Seaholm repeated.

Proponents of the plastic limitation measure hope that consumers and businesses will continue to turn away from single-use items regardless of public health events.

“It is important to remember that plastic has a significant impact on human health at every stage of production until the end of its life,” said Hocevar of Greenpeace. “We have put so much plastic into the environment that at this point it is in the food, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.”

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