Letters: Local plastic bag ban advocate says COVID-19 being used to wage a war on reusable bags

Dear Editor:

The Plastics Industry Association and those aligned with their interests are using false information to undermine the movement to reduce the use of disposables, particularly plastic. 

On March 18, the Plastics Industry Association sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requesting a public statement from the department endorsing single-use plastics as the safest choice amid the current pandemic. 

We are dismayed and disgusted, but not surprised, to see industry lobbyists exploiting the crisis of COVID-19. In several states, including our great state of New Jersey, local groups like the New Jersey Food Council are lobbying against the growing public acceptance of personal, reusable bags even though there is no scientific evidence to support the notion that reusable bags are unsafe or linked to coronavirus transmission.

The New Jersey Food Council sent a letter with threatening undertones to a number of mayors whose towns have banned single-use bags. Some Republican lawmakers are participating in the campaign of misinformation and fear mongering. Assemblyman John DiMaio (R-Warren) actually proposed that supermarkets bar their customers from using their own reusable bags. Assemblyman Harold Wirths (R-Sussex) released a statement linking reusable bags to coronavirus transmission.   

The New Jersey Environmental Lobby, the oldest environmental lobby organization in our state, has been working to pass legislation locally and at the state level to stop plastic pollution and the use of single-use paper bags since 2011. We have debunked these false misleading fear-mongering arguments about reusable bags before. Opponents to legislation have argued against the safety of reusables for a decade. The New Jersey Environmental Lobby trusts science and facts. Any claims we make must be supported by both. 

Scientific studies support the fact that cloth, machine washable, reusable bags are a safe alternative to single-use plastic and paper. Reusable bags provide the end user with the most control over the custody of the bag. Even non-cloth reusable bags can be machine washed or wiped clean and therefore are safe.

FACT: States regulate the use of commercial dishwashers because they kill pathogens on re-useable cups and plates. They are effective at killing pathogens because they have prolonged washing similar to what a washing machine has.

FACT: COVID-19 can be killed when washing with hot water and soap. The virus is sensitive to soap and heat. 

FACT: The coronovirus can be carried through the use of plastic, metal, cardboard, and by asymptomatic carriers. Asymptomatic carriers have no symptoms, so without testing, no one knows who is contagious.

FACT: With a washable, reusable bag, the end user has the most control over the custody and cleaning of the bag.

Single-use bags are touched when made, when transported to stores, when stocked and re-stocked, and when placed on counters. Hundreds of customers may walk by the bags without gloves or masks and/or many employees touch them.

Be safe and healthy, calm and educated with the facts. Trust the science and don’t be afraid.  

Bainy Suri

Bainy Suri is a Princeton resident and is the executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Lobby.


  1. It’s unfortunate that anyone feels so strongly about such an issue as to express emotions such as disgust and dismay. The complete facts regarding how best to bring one’s groceries home are far more complex than the writer wants to admit. At the end of the day, however, I suspect the real impacts on the environment, and the relative health risk impacts are all to be found in the 4th decimal place whether we choose plastic, paper or reusable bags. I for one favor preserving free choice, and using bans only where the result would really matter.
    During these times, we should prioritize moving people through the checkout line and back to their homes as quickly as possible, minimizing time spent in line. After the country reopens we should prioritize getting commerce moving and meeting the pent up need for goods. This is not helped by placing unnecessary restrictions on how the goods must be carried out of the store.

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