If you've visited any big-name grocery store — Trader Joe's, Safeway, Whole Foods — this week, chances are you weren’t allowed to use a reusable bag. Why? Because on Tuesday, San Francisco banned shoppers from using them and “other reusable items" to thwart the spread of COVID-19.
Over a decade ago, San Francisco became one of the first U.S. cities to forbid single-use plastic bags, according to SFGate. It was done as an effort to curb the excessive consumption of throw-away bags, as well as means to encourage patrons to buy durable totes. But, spoiler alert: reusable times, as eco-conscious as they are, can serve as both Petri dishes and transmission vectors for pathogens — like the novel coronavirus. Because most reusable bags are made from either recycled plastics or porous fabrics, clusters of COVID-19 could, theoretically, survive on those items anywhere between 24 to 48 hours.
It’s little wonder why SF officials opted to prohibit the use of them... for the time being.
In the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s most recent update to The City’s shelter-in-place ordinance — which included a recommendation for employees of “essential businesses” to disinfect “all payment portals, pens, and styluses after each use” — the use of reusable bags and other items, like coffee mugs, at local markets and other facilities was forbidden.
The following clause appears on the document’s 20th page:
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. [...]
Measures To Prevent Unnecessary Contact (check all that apply to the facility):
☐ Preventing people from self-serving any items that are food-related.
☐ Lids for cups and food-bar type items are provided by staff; not to customers to grab.
☐ Bulk-item food bins are not available for customer self-service use.
☐ Not permitting customers to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home.
☐ Providing for contactless payment systems or, if not feasible, sanitizing payment systems regularly.
As SFist noticed, signs educating shoppers of the recent update are popping up across the city.
Word to the wise: leave your feel-good grocery totes at home, at least for now. And upcycle or recycle those single-use plastic bags once you’re finished with them.