Is it safe to start using our reusable grocery bags again?

The answer seems to be yes, but proceed with caution. As with all things related to personal health and especially with regard to the Coronavirus, everyone needs to take into account their own personal situation. We can address how to proceed safely later in the article but first, let’s get into why we came to this conclusion.

Let’s first consider why we stopped using reusable bags in the first place. It was a prudent decision made early on in the pandemic when we still didn’t know much about how the virus spread. To compound on this the Plastics Industry Association (PIA) put a letter out to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking them to speak out against plastic bag bans, because they are safer than reusable bags. In this letter, the PIA references studies that point to reusable bags carrying bacteria and viruses. 

The PIA obviously has an agenda: sell more plastic bags. This same organization claims that plastic bags are better for the environment than reusable bags. Furthermore, ACS who is one of the world’s largest scientific organizations with more than 152,000 members in 130+ countries has disputed these claims and declared that these studies are irrelevant due to being both too small, and studying viruses that do not behave the same as the Coronavirus. Both authors of the ACS article have declared that they have no competing interests. Dr. Jodie Sherman’s opinion (associate professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health) is that transmission though reusable bags is “a very unlikely route of transmission [for coronavirus].”

Something else to consider is the CDC stating that “Transmission of coronavirus occurs much more commonly through respiratory droplets than through objects and surfaces, like doorknobs, countertops, keyboards, toys, etc.”  These viruses are much less infective (potentially non-infective) when dried out, and fabrics (such as cotton) are more likely to absorb and suck water away from a virus than a plastic bag. In a letter posted on Greenpeace addressing the safety of reusable bags, scientific and healthcare professionals postulate that “Single-use plastic is not inherently safer than reusables, and causes additional public health concerns once it is discarded.”

We would also point out that no studies have been done on Coronavirus and reusable bags specifically, or at least none that we can find. We also must insist on doing whatever makes you feel safe, especially if you have pre existing conditions.

If you do feel safe using reusable produce bags at the store, here are some precautions you can take.

  • Wash your bags in hot water with a disinfecting solution
  • Make sure you are placing your bags on a surface at home that can be disinfected
  • Ask the grocery store if you can pack your own bags (for their own safety since these bags came from your home)
  • Leave your bags in the cart, so workers do not touch them

We will leave you with some of our sources if you’d like to continue to do your own research. We’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to leave discussion points in the comment section.

Letter from the Plastics Industry Association

ACS letter

Health Expert Statement from Greenpeace