2020 Leg Session, Coronavirus, Featured, Gold Dome, Governor Polis, Sherrie Peif

Cities like Steamboat Springs cling to plastic bag bans despite health risks

DENVER — While some cities in Colorado have taken Gov. Jared Polis’s advice to lift plastic bag fees as part of the reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, no city has yet to follow the example set by first U.S. city to ban single-use plastic bags with its reversal of the entire ban.

In its public health order to shelter in place of March 31, 2020, the City and County of San Francisco included a social distancing protocol sheet for essential businesses to follow if they were to stay open.

The checklist of required items reads: “Businesses must implement all applicable measures listed below, and be prepared to explain why any measure that is not implemented is inapplicable to the business.”

According to the full order the measure is to increase social distancing and reduce person-to-person contact.

Experts say reusable bags spread the virus, unlike plastic.

“In the pandemic and post-pandemic world, the war on plastic must end,” says the editorial board from the Colorado Springs Gazette. The usually conservative-leaning board pointed out that even they “long-ago encouraged consumers to shop with reusable bags.”

But more information has changed their minds.

“We didn’t know then what we know today,” the editorial continues.

Numerous studies dating back more than a decade warned of the germs and bacteria that gathers on reusable bags, yet cities and states across the country began banning plastic bags in favor of reusable bags in the name of environmental protection.

But as part of the efforts against coronavirus, Governors across the country have begun to pull back from plastic bag bans and taxes.

Polis recognized this significance soon after his first executive decision concerning Covid-19 by urging cities where bans or fees had been enacted to lift the collection of fees, stopping short of requiring it.

To date, it’s not clear how many communities are taking his advice, but Steamboat Springs recently dropped its paper bag fees, but left a recently enacted plastic bag ban in place — and continued allowing the use of reusable bags.

Steamboat City Council President Jason Lacy did not immediately return a request for comment concerning whether Steamboat considered reversing its ban. Complete Colorado will update the story as necessary.

Governors in other states have gone one step further, requiring the use of plastic bags and/or delaying implementing plastic bag bans.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills delayed the implementation of a plastic bag ban, while New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker put prohibitions in place on reusables.

Even grocery stores where they are still allowed, are taking their own precautions with regard to reusable bags.

“Grocery store employees are on the front lines in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus,” wrote Forbes columnist Patrick Gleason recently.  “These critical and vulnerable workers shouldn’t be forced to handle reusable shopping bags that scientific researchers have found can act as Petri dishes for bacteria and carriers of harmful pathogens. Yet that is the result of well-meaning but misguided laws on the books in states and localities across the U.S.”

Despite Kroger announcing last year its intent to phase out plastic bags, several locations have posted signs at every checkout that anyone wishing to use reusable bags must bag their own groceries.

“I don’t know how they can ever go back to plastic bans again,” said Marcus Waltrip, a Greeley resident who noticed the sign while getting some essential items from one of those locations on Wednesday. “We are living in a new world. Even when this is over, people are going to live a much more sterile life. That’s not possible with cloth.”

It is not known if that message will carry over when the pandemic is over, such as whether a bill going through the Colorado legislature to ban single-use plastics in the state will move forward.

Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono said she sure hopes so, adding there has always been studies that show plastic is the smarter way to go. The additional safety fighting the spread of disease for both grocery workers and customers is one more reason to keep then in use.

“It’s a marvel of engineering,” Saine said. “They are economical, efficient, convenient, strong enough to carry a gallon of milk, and they don’t carry coronavirus. And most people do reuse them.”

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