With the quick spread of COVID-19, environmentalists and scientists have sought to depict the positive aspects of the pandemic on our planet by reducing global CO2 emissions and improving air quality. However, the reality of COVID-19 has also slowed movements to ban single-use plastic, especially in the USA.
Studies are still determining how the virus lives. Yet, with the evidence that the virus lives on various surfaces from between 24 hours to five days, grocery store unions and customers globally have expressed concern whether reusable bags pose a risk for transmission of the virus. Since most customers tend to keep their reusable bags at home or in the car, there is the possibility of passing the virus on the grocery conveyor belt, in the carts, or to the person bagging the groceries.
The question remains: How can we protect ourselves against the virus and still maintain our commitment to being environmentally-friendly while shopping during the pandemic?
While close person-to-person reactions have the highest potential to transmit the virus, governments and officials are not willing to take the risk. Citing health concerns, New Hampshire became the first state to place a temporary ban on using reusable shopping bags on March 31st. Since then, states like Massachusetts and Illinois, cities like San Francisco and Albuquerque, and grocery chains have either placed bans on bringing reusable bags or strongly discouraged the use of reusable bags.
If you choose to carry reusable bags, make sure to wash them immediately when you get inside
Most cotton or canvas bags can be washed in the washing machine, but check the tag before placing it in the washer. Additionally, make sure to wipe down the area that the bag might have touched using a diluted bleach solution. Also, wipe down the grocery items inside the bag and then wash your hands.
If you cannot wash your reusable bags, then ensure to wipe them with antibacterial hand soap and disinfectant sprays before you put them away. Make sure you always sanitize your car or cart, where you may have placed the bags during the trip to the grocery store.
Reduce your shopping trips to a minimum
If you can go out once for a more substantial amount of groceries, do so rather than making 2-3 visits. It will reduce your level of exposure to the virus.
If you do not have a choice but to use plastic bags...
Make sure to clean inside and outside the bag with soapy water and then rinse. Alternatively, wipe down the bags with an antibacterial solution. Allow the bags to air dry completely before reusing. For more information, see recommendations from NC State University.
Stay green and stay safe.