Retailers Improvise on Shopping Bags, Other Areas, During Pandemic

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Retailers Improvise on Shopping Bags, Other Areas, During Pandemic

By Thad Rueter - 04/27/2020
California suspends its plastic bag ban
The pandemic is proving a setback for bans on plastic bags

The pandemic is forcing retailers and government officials to rethink their stances on plastic bag, with the latest example coming from California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has suspended the state’s plastic bag ban, according to a report from the L.A. Times. The ban comes “amid concerns that clerks may be at risk for exposure to the coronavirus if shoppers are required to supply their own reusable bags to carry their purchases home,” the report said. The ban was implemented in 2016. Newsom reportedly made this decision “after hearing concerns from the California Grocers Association about shoppers bringing reusable bags from home that are handled by store clerks filling them with groceries.”

As the retailers and officials respond to the pandemic, various guidelines and public health requirements can make it confusing for consumers and store operators to know what to do. As well, recent moves to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags that were enacted before the pandemic are now being questioned by consumers concerned about whether resuable bags can further spread the virus. “We are asking guests to refrain from bringing reusable (eco) bags into stores for use,” said Reading, Pa.-based Render’s Markets. “These bags, while durable for multi-uses, can be carriers for the virus and could cause further spread.  Our cashiers will be automatically issuing single use, plastic bags until further notice.”

During the pandemic, retailers are setting their own customer limits either voluntarily or via mandates from government officials, another source of potential confusion, while dealing with pressure from workers to back those limits even in the absence of mandates. New ideas are regularly popping up. In Maryland, for instance, the Calvert County Health Department has asked food retailers and customers to follow a voluntary guideline that would limit shopping to one trip every five days. Consumers would shop according to their last names – the first letter of a last name would correspond to a specific shopping date, according to a Fox News report.

Now, of course, retailers beyond those who sell groceries face the choice of whether to open up in Georgia and certain other states that have taken their own steps to restart their economies. The pandemic is causing all businesses to improvise, and those efforts will continue for the foreseeable future.