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California Suspends Ban on Plastic Grocery Bags

Single-use plastic bag holding produce
The suspension is “critical to protect the public health and safety and minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure for workers engaged in essential activities,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom in signing the executive order.

Four years after signing an executive order to ban plastic retail bags in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has suspended that ban for 60 days after hearing from the California Grocers Association. The association expressed concerns about shoppers bringing reusable bags from home that are then handled by clerks who fill them with groceries, according to the Los Angeles Times.

I questioned the idea of reusable/refillable coffee cups, food containers and cloth or nonwoven retail bags from the get-go. For a state that was so worried about the risk that COVID-19 presented to California’s population, the benefits of plastics should have been obvious.

Newsom’s order said the suspension is “critical to protect the public health and safety and minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure for workers engaged in essential activities, such as those handling reusable grocery bags or recyclable containers where recycling centers are not available.”

Just Salad, just no reusable bowls for now

New York City–based Just Salad released its “sustainability report” the first week in February, boasting of the fact that the “healthy food” company had diverted 75,000 pounds of single-use plastic from landfills in 2019 through the company’s reusable bowl program. The program allows guests to purchase a reusable bowl for $1 and receive a free topping (like avocado) with every reuse.

Just Salad’s goal is to divert 100,000 pounds of single-use plastic from landfills, apply reusable options wherever possible, favor disposable packaging that is genuinely recyclable or compostable, and develop a 360-degree compostable program at all of its NYC locations.

Those plans were derailed by COVID-19, and on March 13 the company announced the suspension of its reusable bowls program to “ensure peace of mind” for its customers. This came just after Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks stopped the use of personal coffee mugs. However, when I questioned Just Salad about its program shortly after the February release, I discovered the reusable bowls are made of BPA-free polypropylene. Plastic!

While the plastic reusable bowls can still be purchased, they can’t be brought back to the store locations for refill during the pandemic.

It’s good to be sustainable and try to keep waste materials — including plastic, paper, metal, and textiles — from the environment but it’s also important that companies be smart about their programs. Safety is just as important as sustainability, if not more so.

Perhaps there needs to be more emphasis placed on the safety and health factors of plastic retail bags and takeout containers that can be recycled, and better education of consumers about what to do with these plastic items when they are done using them. Put the responsibility on consumers to be aware of what needs to be done when they are finished with the plastic bags and containers.

At the end of the day it’s really not a plastic problem — it’s a people problem!

Image: Stormy/Adobe Stock

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