US state and local governments reassess plastic bans

US state and local officials have expressed concerns that reusable shopping bags that are brought into establishments could carry and spread the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, who announced a temporary suspension of the city’s plastic bag ban on March 25, said essential retailers also need added flexibility during the ongoing public health emergency.

In mid-March, the town of Brookline announced a suspension of its local ban on polystyrene containers in order to give food purveyors flexibility as they quickly transition to offering only takeout and delivery during the state of emergency. The governor has not announced a state-wide suspension of other limitations or bans on plastic products.

On March 23, governor Baker signed an emergency order guaranteeing that intrastate waste and recycling collection and disposal would continue uninterrupted during the COVID-19 emergency, classifying these services as essential. The order also provides relief from state and federal requirements governing the hours of service for commercial vehicle operators in the waste and recycling sector, while still protecting the health and safety of workers.

Some environmental advocates have expressed opposition to the plastic bag ban suspension, saying there isn’t definitive evidence that reusable bags are a source of virus transmission.

More than 100 cities and towns have passed local bylaws or ordinances to restrict single-use plastic bags, and many others have added restrictions on the use of polystyrene and other products known to be harmful to the environment.


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