John Tierney of City Journal has made a strong case that single-use plastic bags aren’t the menace environmental activists claim they are. (See Rachel Currie’s blog “Tierney: Cool It on the Plastic Panic”).

Tierney is back with a new piece arguing that in the time of the coronavirus outbreak, single-use plastic bags are safer than those reusable tote bags a badge of wokeness.

Single-use plastic bags are simply cleaner, Tierney argues (“Greening Our Way to Infection”):

Researchers have been warning for years about the risks of [reusable totes] spreading deadly viral and bacterial diseases, but public officials have ignored their concerns, determined to eliminate single-use bags and other plastic products despite their obvious advantages in reducing the spread of pathogens.

In New York State, a new law took effect this month banning single-use plastic bags in most retail businesses, and this week Democratic state legislators advanced a bill that would force coffee shops to accept consumers’ reusable cups—a practice that Starbucks and other chains have wisely suspended to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus.  

John Flanagan, the Republican leader of the New York State Senate, has criticized the new legislation and called for a suspension of the law banning plastic bags. “Senate Democrats’ desperate need to be green is unclean during the coronavirus outbreak,” he said Tuesday, but so far he’s been a lonely voice among public officials. 

The COVID-19 virus is just one of many pathogens that shoppers can spread unless they wash the bags regularly, which few people bother to do. Viruses and bacteria can survive in the tote bags up to nine days, according to one study of coronaviruses.

Tierney cites a 2018 study in the Journal of Environment Health that found more risk of transmission from reusable bags. It was advised that customers wash their reusable bags.

  A previous study conducted in supermarkets in Arizona and California found significant contamination in reusable bags but none in single-use plastic bags. There are more details in Tierney’s article.

So officials who passed the anti-single-use plastic bag law were simply in the dark? Not so:

New York’s state officials were told of this risk before they passed the law banning plastic bags. In fact, as the Kings County Politics website reported, a Brooklyn activist, Allen Moses, warned that shoppers in New York City could be particularly vulnerable because they often rest their bags on the floors of subway cars containing  potentially deadly bacteria from rats—and then set the bag on the supermarket checkout counter. Yet public officials remain committed to reusable bags.

. . .

How could that possibly be a “smart choice” for public health? Anyone who has studied consumer behavior knows that it’s hopelessly unrealistic to expect people to follow all those steps. If the Department of Health actually prioritized public health, it would acknowledge what food manufacturers and grocers have known for decades: disposable plastic is the cheapest, simplest, and safest way to prevent foodborne illnesses.

Instead, leaders in New York and other states are ordering shoppers to make a more expensive, inconvenient, and risky choice—all to serve a green agenda that’s actually harmful to the environment. 

The ban on plastic bags will mean more trash in landfills (because paper bags take up so much more space than the thin disposable bags) and more greenhouse emissions (because of the larger carbon footprints of the replacement bags). And now, probably, it will also mean more people coming down with COVID-19 and other illnesses.

Read the entire article.