The Real Reason Plastic Bags Are Making A Comeback

For close to a decade, cities and towns across the United States have been banning single-use plastic bags given the negative impact they have on the environment (via City of Honolulu). Many of these laws either ban single-use plastic bags entirely or require that retailers charge for them in order to discourage their use (via State of Connecticut). The assumption was that the bans would come into effect and start having an immediate positive outcome, but the bans actually had an unintended consequence. 

Because shoppers used their plastic bags for a number of second applications such as for dog waste and in small trashcans, they had to replace them with something once the bans went into effect. Consumers wound up purchasing small garbage bags which are actually made of more plastic than grocery bags, which resulted in more plastic in landfills (via NPR). And on top of that, people used paper bags more often which resulted in 80 million pounds of paper trash.

Why reusable shopping bags are now being banned

Due to the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), single-use plastic bags seem to have been granted a lifeline. Given the obsession to keep every surface in public places as clean as possible in an attempt to thwart the spread of the virus, it's now reusable shopping bags that are being banned by retailers as a temporary pubic health measure. Scientists have found that the virus can survive on plastic for one to three days, and as this information is not available when it comes to reusable cloth bags, retailers and local governments are trying to have shoppers use bags that are as sterile as possible (via The Verge). 

As such, New Hampshire was the first state to issue a temporary ban on reusable shopping bags as a result of the coronavirus crisis. It became clear that only one option was left once the option of using reusable bags evaporated, and that was to return to the maligned plastic bag. They might disappear as quickly as they reemerged once this crisis is behind us, but for the foreseeable future it looks like you'll be bringing all your shopping home with you in an old fashioned plastic bag.