The Real Reason You Shouldn't Bring Reusable Bags to the Grocery Store
Reusable shopping bags have long been regarded as a responsible and ethical way to limit waste and the use of plastic bags that take centuries to biodegrade. (Happy Earth Day!) But now that we are hypersensitive to the spread of dangerous contagions—and given that the virus can survive on surfaces for varying periods of time—the question remains: Is now a good time to continue to use reusable shopping bags?
Well, the answer isn't exactly as clear as you might think. After all, the coronavirus outbreak has us rethinking everything, especially in regard to the previously pedestrian experience of grocery shopping.
Depending on the material, the COVID-19 virus can live on for anywhere from 30 minutes to eight hours. Assuming your reusable bags are absolutely clean and disinfected, then yes, of course, it's okay to use them. But there is another consideration to bear in mind: the mental health of the grocery store clerks.
These hourly wage workers are putting their lives at risk by doing the very essential work of stocking, ringing up, and bagging your groceries, which is why many experts believe we should be closing grocery stores for good and moving to curbside pickups exclusively. Dozens of grocery store employees have succumbed to this deadly contagion, and there is at least one wrongful death lawsuit filed by the estate of a Walmart associate.
While the plastic and paper bags the grocery store provide can indeed transmit the virus if they've been sneezed or breathed upon by someone carrying the virus, bringing in an outside bag is adds stress what has become an already stressful job.
For example, a worker at a Long Island-based Trader Joe's had this to say about reusable bags in an interview with Business Insider:
We have a lot of people bring in reusable bags because New York state recently issued a plastic bag ban. I personally will never take someone's reusable bag.
No offense to anyone, but it goes back to good practice. I don't know where those bags have been. I don't know the last time the bag has been washed. I have a family at home including higher-risk members, and I'm gonna do whatever I can to make sure that they don't get sick. So I'm not touching your reusable bag.
Perhaps not every grocery store clerk will share the same concern. But the mental health of those grocery store clerks should be at least a consideration in whether you feel its a good time to use your reusable bags or not.
In many places, however, it won't be so easy to ditch your favorite tote. California, Oregon, and New York have banned plastic bags. Many other states have partial bans or charge slight fees for plastic bags. For now, at least, those fees may be well worth the charge.