Yesterday, I made a case for plastic carrier bags.

Shops in England were supposed to stop using single-use bags earlier this year and switch to paper. However, coronavirus has put paid to that because … getting a new plastic bag from the shop has next to no germs on it, compared with reusable totes.

On March 14, 2020, the New York Post published an article about the positives of plastic bags: ‘Using tote bags instead of plastic could help spread the coronavirus’.

The article appeared originally in City Journal, where the author, John Tierney, is a contributing editor.

Highlights follow, emphases mine.

Everyone’s going green not only with tote bags, but also reusable cups. I can’t think of anything more distasteful than asking for one’s reusable cup to be refilled. What is going through retailers’ and legislators’ minds? Talk about a disease multiplier!

This is what happened in New York State in March:

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 New York’s Senate, rightly objected. He:

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.

No doubt everything is suspended for now. You can imagine how New York got such high infection rates. Perhaps this will be examined later when the pandemic has died off.

We’re supposed to wash our tote bags regularly — admittedly, I do not, but I consider myself to be very careful. No doubt everyone else with tote bags does, too!

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.

The risk of spreading viruses was clearly demonstrated in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health. The researchers, led by Ryan Sinclair of the Loma Linda University School of Public Health, sent shoppers into three California grocery stores carrying polypropylene plastic tote bags that had been sprayed with a harmless surrogate of a virus.

After the shoppers bought groceries and checked out, the researchers found sufficiently high traces of the surrogate to risk transmission on the hands of the shoppers and checkout clerks, as well as on many surfaces touched by the shoppers, including packaged food, unpackaged produce, shopping carts, checkout counters, and the touch screens used to pay for groceries. The researchers said that the results warranted the adaptation of “in-store hand hygiene” and “surface disinfection” by merchants, and they also recommended educating shoppers to wash their bags.

Another study found that single-use bags were hygienic at the time they were provided at the point of sale:

An earlier study of supermarkets in Arizona and California found large numbers of bacteria in almost all the reusable bags — and no contamination in any of the new single-use plastic bags. When a bag with meat juice on the interior was stored in the trunk of a car, within two hours the number of bacteria multiplied tenfold.

Yes, there are all sorts of dangerous bacteria lurking in reusable bags, including e. Coli:

The researchers also found that the vast majority of shoppers never followed the advice to wash their bags. One of the researchers, Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, said that the findings “suggest a serious threat to public health,” particularly from fecal coliform bacteria, which was found in half the bags. These bacteria and other pathogens can be transferred from raw meat in the bag and also from other sources.

An outbreak of viral gastroenteritis among a girls’ soccer team in Oregon was traced to a reusable grocery bag that had sat on the floor of a hotel bathroom. In a 2012 study, researchers analyzed the effects of San Francisco’s ban on single-use plastic grocery bags by comparing emergency-room admissions in the city against those of nearby counties without the bag ban. The researchers, Jonathan Klick of the University of Pennsylvania and Joshua Wright of George Mason University, reported a 25 percent increase in bacteria-related illnesses and deaths in San Francisco relative to the other counties.

And, as I said yesterday, the bags end up sitting everywhere before they pop on top of the supermarket counter:

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 Web site 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.

To get around this, New York has developed an elaborate set of shopping and packing guidelines which, oddly enough, include a greater use of plastic:

A headline on the Web site of the New York Department of Health calls reusable grocery bags a “Smart Choice”bizarre advice, considering all the elaborate cautions underneath that headline. The department advises grocery shoppers to segregate different foods in different bags; to package meat and fish and poultry in small disposable plastic bags inside their tote bags; to wash and dry their tote bags carefully; to store the tote bags in a cool, dry place; and never to reuse the grocery tote bags for anything but food.

You couldn’t make it up.

I agree 110% with John Flanagan:

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.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s what partly accounted for New York State’s high COVID-19 rates. I hope we will find out one day.

Bottom line: disposable plastic is hygienic.