Plastic Bags

San Francisco Was the First Major City To Ban Plastic Bags. Now It's Banning Reusable Bags To Combat Coronavirus.

Preserving consumer choice allows stores and shoppers to respond nimbly to uncertain risks.


The world really has turned upside down. In 2007 San Francisco became the first large city in the country to ban single-use plastic bags. Now, as part of its effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, the city is banning the reusable tote bags it's spent over a decade promoting.

Last week, the San Francisco Department of Health published an update to its guidelines for the city's already strict shelter-in-place order. These new guidelines include social distancing protocols that so-called "essential" businesses must follow when applicable.

Included in the protocol section on preventing unnecessary contact is a directive for businesses to prohibit customers from bringing their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home.

As SFGate notes, the updated guidance does not address the status of the city's existing plastic bag ordinance, which bans the distribution of non-compostable single-use plastic bags, and requires stores to charge ten cents for each compostable, paper, or reusable bag a customer uses. That fee is set to increase to 25 cents in July 2020.

Both New York and Maine have suspended the implementation of their state-level plastic bag bans because of the novel coronavirus.

John Tierney argued in CityJournal recently that reusable bags have the potential to become contaminated with bacteria and have been known to transmit viruses. Early studies show that COVID-19 can also survive on plastic surfaces for up to three days.

That suggests reusable bags, which are often made of plastic, might create additional risks for grocery store customers and staff. If a person brings a reusable bag from a home where someone is sick, any clerk who handles that bag could end up getting infected. And if that clerk is already sick, a bag that doesn't immediately get tossed in the trash could end up infecting the next person who comes into contact with it.

However, the CDC had downplayed the risks that people will pick up COVID-19 from surfaces, saying that it is much more likely to get the virus from another person. Two epidemiologists who spoke with Slate about grocery store best practices in the time of coronavirus were also dismissive of the idea that reusable bags created additional risks.

The fact that we're still in the dark about how best to prevent the spread of coronavirus is actually a good reason to not have bag bans of any kind, reusable or single-use.

Stores that are particularly concerned about the risks of a customer bringing in a contaminated reusable bag should be free to opt for allowing (and providing) only single-use bags. Shoppers who like their reusable bags, or who are concerned about bringing home single-use plastic bags that might have been handled by sick staff, should also have the option of patronizing places that still allow their preferred receptacle.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that some grocery store chains came up with a middle-ground policy of allowing customers to bring their own reusable bags on the condition that they bag items themselves.

It's fashionable to say that there are no libertarians in a pandemic. Yet preserving freedom of choice, even about the small things like which bag to use at the grocery store, allows people and businesses to react more nimbly to uncertain risks.

That San Francisco has had to oscillate between two totally different prohibitions, meanwhile, highlights the problem of always picking the most restrictive top-down solution for any given problem.

NEXT: New York's New Budget: No Legal Weed, No Fracking, No Flavored Vapes, No Police Transparency. But You Get E-scooters!

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  1. The battle of the existential threats.

  2. some grocery store chains came up with a middle-ground policy of allowing customers to bring their own reusable bags on the condition that they bag items themselves.

    While holding those filthy bags in the air, away from surfaces used by the community ?!

  3. Speaking of wrinkly gas bags…

    Boris Johnson admitted to ICU

    I believe the phrase “poetic justice” applies here, no? Look, I hope the fucking lying windbag recovers and all. But let’s all hope he comes out a little wiser for the wear with a little more genuine empathy. A ventilator fora day or two might be good for him.

    1. Aren’t you just the bundle of sunshine!

      1. No, that’s a stinking pile of lefty shit.

    2. This from the asshole that over a week ago said Trump was gonna die from Wuhan virus in the next 5 days.

    3. American Socialist…..kindly consume fecal matter and expire.
      But, move to Venezuela to do so. You can die in a place that has just the kind of government you so desire, and not pollute American soil.

    4. They have a term for people like you over in the UK. They call you “snotty little cunts.”


  4. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that some grocery store chains came up with a middle-ground policy of allowing customers to bring their own reusable bags on the condition that they bag items themselves.
    And thereby proving that SF can NEVER see the obvious.
    They were wrong to ban plastic bags, they are wrong to ban reusable bags, and they are wrong to let people shit in the streets.
    I use high quality cloth bags (as in not formaldehyde contaminated ones from China) and bag my own purchases. This is what I have always done, not just to celebrate the fascist takeover.

  5. Ditto from where I am. We still have the bag tax in place, but now we are told not to bring our own bags. How convenient for the county! Let’s just tax them when they’re down!

    They haven’t yet banned your own bags yet, just discouraging them. But it’s only a matter of time before the panicking local government sends cops around to nail shut everyone’s doors.

  6. I wonder if Vegas has odds on how long it will be for the pivot back to banning single-use bags.

    1. Why pivot back when use of single-use bags will combat colds and regular flu too?

      1. Why indeed. But this is a statist solution to a statist solution, so of course they will.

    2. When the tree-hugging SJWs show up at my local city council meeting to demand the return of bag bans, this time I’ll show up and call them filthy little misanthropic, homicidal hippies freaks.


  7. I gotta say I told you so.

    1. From a stinking pile of bigot.

  8. whatever you can carry in your bandana.

  9. It’s not the latest turnabout for the failed progressive left wing political machine. In important news, Alyssa Milano says that men need due process when they are accused of sexually assaulting women. Well, far left wing progressive men. Not conservatives or libertarians. But it’s an important step in the right direction for a failed, out of work actress with nothing on her resume except an 80s TV show, soft core porn, and Commando.

  10. Welcome to leadership “California style”. This is the state where the default setting anymore seems to be that any given object in any given situation needs to be subject to either being made mandatory or being totally prohibited, although occasionally they try to do both at once. Compounding that is a governor who has a stated preference for prioritizing problems “small to big”; enevtually he’ll run out of “small” things to deal with and get around to addressing the 100k or so people in L.A. and S.F. who are apparently “safer” in their tents under freeway overpasses or piled up on skid row (not to mention the question of whether the closure of parks in L.A. has included evicting the “unhoused neighbors” who had been living there for the months leading up to this).

    I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if the next step in “fighting the pandemic” involves authorizing law enforcement to stop people randomly and swab their re=usable drinking straws to verify proper sanitation (with the straw in question being confiscated and held for 72 hours until the culture sample can be properly evaluated)

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  12. Meh, it´s gay bay…..who cares.

  13. String bags, like back in the Soviet Union standing in line for 6 hours to get a loaf of bread days.

    String bags were just big enough to hold a days worth of food and were see-through so you couldn’t hide what you were carrying.

    San Fran will mandate these any day now.

  14. Reusable bags and mass transit will get you infected.

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  16. When are people going to learn? It has never been about the environment. It is about pushing a political agenda. Bloomberg stated the ban on plastic bags and straws was never about the environment, it is about making a strike against “big oil”.

  17. Reusable bags: Public health crisis, illegal.

    Shitting on sidewalk: ???

    1. Bigot! How DARE you question your betters in San Francisco? Don’t you know?


  18. How this potential for disease spread wasn’t apparent to the a-scientific save-the-world politicians from day one is beyond me.

    Reusable bags end up in all kinds of unsanitary environments and then share the same counter space in grocery stores.

    Well duh.

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