Commentary: COVID-19 doesn’t make one-use plastic necessary

By John J. Weber

Like everywhere, Delaware residents are doing their best to stay safe from COVID-19, but in this time of uncertainty and misinformation, I am hopeful that they remain aware that single-use plastic bags are not going to keep them any safer.

This fallacy, promoted by a contributor on these pages last month (“Health and safety of single-use plastic bags,” May 18), is easily refuted by both common sense and the facts.

John J. Weber

Last year, Delaware passed a plastic bag law that will go into effect in 2021. Although a step in the right direction, it is among the weakest of plastic bag laws passed by states since it has no way to control paper bag use. We don’t want every single-use plastic bag to be replaced by a single-use paper bag – that’s not very environmental, is it?

Effective bag laws put a fee on paper bags in addition to banning plastic bags. This fee incentivizes consumers to start bringing their own reusable bags, which is what we all want. In California, for example, this is the law, and studies have shown that plastic bag use has gone down there by 86%. Wouldn’t we want that here?

Given the current pandemic, consumers need to know that reusable bags are safe when proper precautions are taken. Details on this issue can be found in a Ban the Bag! blog post at This new coronavirus has already been shown to last longer on plastic surfaces than on fiber (cardboard) surfaces.

Think about it … would you rather have a bag that you own, that you know only you have touched, carrying your groceries? Or would you rather have a plastic bag handled by the cashier, who has touched every item they’ve scanned and bagged that day?

The pro-plastic bag writer claims that reusable bags carry bacteria and cites “studies.” In those questionable studies, they poured meat juice into a reusable bag and let it sit for a while and, then, when they looked, they found bacteria. Amazing! But we have news for you, there is bacteria everywhere, including your clothes. The solution is to wash it. Just as with the clothes you wear, make sure that your reusable bags are properly cleaned prior to each use. (You can find details for cleaning and disinfection in the coronavirus section at under prevention/cleaning and disinfection.)

While shoppers are not tossing single-use bags out of their cars on the way home, if you just look at the sides of roads or in trees, you will know that plastic bag litter is very real and prevalent. Reusable bags are obviously superior since, a) they’re usually not ending up in the environment or stuck in a tree; and b) they are not often found in the stomach of a whale. Furthermore, an astonishingly low percentage of single-use plastic bags are recycled. It is 1%, according to Waste Management Inc.

One cannot just claim that considering the full lifecycle of reusable bags means they have more impact on the environment than single-use bags. One has to consider that these bags are used hundreds of times throughout their normal lives, thus bringing their lifetime impact well below that of disposable bags.

What this is really all about is the plastic industry using the pandemic to scare consumers and lobby lawmakers into getting rid of laws that the industry never liked in the first place. Delaware did the right thing by banning bags, but they should consider strengthening that law by making it apply to more stores, not just big box stores, and adding a fee to paper bags so retailers don’t just start giving out more paper bags.

As Delaware opens back up for business, go forth and shop. But please, bring your clean reusable bags with the confidence of knowing that they are safe. Oh, and as restaurants open up and you go out to eat, know that reusable dinnerware that has been washed in a dishwasher is safe, as well.

John J. Weber is the Mid-Atlantic regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation, which has active chapters in Delaware and Maryland.