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With single-use bag ban back, you’ll be paying for grocery sacks again

Get ready to pack your own reusable bags again, or pay for 10 cents for store bags when you go shopping, if you aren’t already.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s April 22 suspension of the state’s single-use bag ban expired June 22, and stores are eliminating their interim free-bag policies.

Suspension of the state law came after some retailers unilaterally stopped allowing reusable bags out of concern that they could contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

Now, environmentalists are celebrating the return of the single-use ban. They — along with many health experts — say reusable bags pose little health risk, particularly if they’re washed regularly and handled only by the shopper.

Additionally, the Center for Disease Control has updated its guidance, noting that there’s been no documentation of anyone catching the coronavirus from an inanimate surface.

“Transmission of coronavirus occurs much more commonly through respiratory droplets than through objects and surfaces,” according to the CDDC website.

The Ralphs-Kroger-Food 4 Less and Vons-Safeway chains are preparing to allow reusable bags in stores where they had been temporarily banned and, by next week, will start charging 10 cents for store bags. Four other major grocery chains contacted by the Southern California News Group did not respond to inquiries, but most are expected to follow suit.

The California Grocers Association said it has notified its members of the rule change and indicated no opposition to resuming use of reusable bags.

“We defer this decision to local health authorities, who know best how to proceed,” said association spokesman Dave Heylen. “Cal-OSHA has provided guidelines for store employees to follow in the event a customer brings their own bag.”

The most recent Cal-OSHA guidelines, dated May 26, simply say that customers should leave their reusable bags in their carts until checkout, that employees should not touch the bags and that customers should bag their own purchases.

The United Food & Commercial Workers union, which represents grocery workers and declined comment for this story, does not appear to have taken a position on reusable bags.

The safety issue

Environmental groups have been pushing steadfastly against efforts to reintroduce single-use bags and other single-use plastics, arguing that they are no safer than their reusable counterparts. Some say reusables are even safer because the owner knows exactly where they’ve been.

The groups say efforts toward the elimination of disposable plastics needs to continue in order to reduce litter, a threat to marine life, non-biodegradable landfill waste and greenhouse gases produced by the manufacture of plastics.

“We understand that, out of abundance of caution, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, some retailers and even some county public health officers chose to temporarily discourage consumers from bringing their own reusable bags into stores,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. “(But) there was never any evidence that COVID could be or has been transmitted via reusable bags.”

A document signed by more than 110 health experts from 18 countries makes the case that reusable products — including bags, containers and food service utensils — are no less safe than their disposable counterparts. The document has been released by the environmental groups Greenpeace USA and UPSTREAM.

Californians Against Waste and Environment California were among groups who wrote the governor asking to resume the bag ban. The California Grocery Association, which supported the ban when it was ratified by voters in 2016 and had called for the temporary suspension of the ban in a March 25 letter to Newsom, did not write a position letter to the governor before the suspension expired.

“It’s projected that as many as 1 billion single-use bags were distributed in California in April and May alone, costing consumers more than $20 million in higher grocery costs,” Murray said.

No enforcement?

When some stores in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties began prohibiting reusable bags and instead provided free sacks in late March, there was no legal basis for sidestepping the state’s single-use bag ban. Yet, up until Newsom suspended the bag ban statewide April 22, there appears to have been no enforcement taken against the scofflaws.

And there’s no indication that the law will be enforced now. The ban became effective again on March 22 but Heylen of the California Grocers Association said he’s heard of no enforcement efforts.

Inquiries to CalRecycle about future enforcement of the law were referred to Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Becerra’s office referred questions to Newsom’s office. Newsom’s office did not respond to the question.

Local authorities can also enforce the law, but it looks unlikely that any sack patrols will be monitoring stores in the near future.

In Orange County, District Attorney Todd Spitzer took a hands-off approach in April and says he’ll continue to do so.

“At some point we need to get back to the use of reusable bags as contained in state law, which I am required to enforce,” he said. “But now is not that time. Merchants are in the best position to understand consumer demand and also what their own business practices are to prevent the spread of Covid 19.”

Source: Orange County Register

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