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Cambridge orders coronavirus-related ban on reusable bags at stores, lifts 10-cent fee for store bags

Cambridge officials today announced a ban on reusable bags at stores in the city in an effort to protect store workers from getting infected by customers.

The order also requires stores to stop charging customers 10 cents for supplying bags for their purchases - and orders stores to limit the number of customers allowed inside at one time and to stop admitting new customers until ones already inside have left. The emergency order does not specify a number, but says it can be no more than the number that can be safely queued up in a single check out line with customers required to put at least six feet between themselves and other people.

Free tagging: 



Petty dictators who like to tell people what to do.

Especially when they are wrong.

Voting closed 23

Virus aside, numerous studies have shown the reusable bag push has backfired. The reusable bags require far more resources to produce and they aren't being used enough to justify the environmental cost.

Manufacturers should instead be pushed to use less packaging. Why are so many products in a bag inside a box? Ditch the box!

Voting closed 47

The much thicker plastic bags being sold for 5 or 10 cents apiece take much more energy to make and many thousands more years to fully decompose compared to a single-use bag. The "better" bags are also awkwardly shaped for using as small trash bags. In most places, this empirically and intuitively leads to substantially increased purchases of standalone trash bags, which cancels out a sizable portion of the expected reduction in plastic usage.

It's also a misguided policy from a socioeconomic perspective. The poor are much more likely to reuse single-use bags as trash bags, yet the bag tax hits their wallets the hardest (both because of their low income and because of their reliance on transit to get to/from shopping areas, which makes it difficult to carry items loosely). On the other hand, the upper middle class and above tend to not re-use the single-use bags, and they're unlikely to change their behavior on single-use because the tax is minimal to them. Ironically (or maybe not), the politicians calling for such bans are the exact same ones advocating to reverse historical inequities for the poor and underrepresented, without realizing that they're leading the effort to perpetuate such inequities themselves.

Hopefully, Covid-19 forces these cities and towns to reconsider, and forces these politicians to understand that those who choose to approach the same environmental problem with different solutions (eg. sustainable/less packaging) are not their enemies.

Voting closed 9

Try again. Those studies are all done by petrochemical companies trying to push plastics and they're focusing on one tiny part of the equation: cost of production and distribution.

A fabric bag requires RENEWABLE resources, lasts for years, can be reused for other purposes, or recycled. Or when it's thrown away, its....drumroll...natural fibers.

Plastic bags are made with nonrenewable resources, can't be reused for much, can't be recycled, and last eons if thrown away.

Voting closed 10

While I agree with your second point about less packaging, I think that reusable bags should remain the defacto norm here. If there is any issues with their use, it's only because the $0.15 fee for cheaper, plastic "re-usable" bags is too low and some people still single-use those. Stores need to have no cheap, purchasable bags that are not full on canvas. Tote bags are better for carrying groceries without breaking. Some of those studies try to compare the use rate vs production costs, but unless you have crappy bags that break, a set of tote bags will last you years or even decades. And the biggest benefit of all is that those plastic bags were often littered to the rate that on a windy day every tree in the neighborhood was full of bag fruit. I have definitely seen a huge decline in that type of litter.

Incidentally, in Boston Star Markets anyhow, they have a much more sensible policy on re-usable bags. You bring your own, like always. You bag your own groceries. Thus nobody else touches your bags. This makes the most sense, because even in healthier times the store clerks are incapable of bagging things in a sensible manner and you would end up with bread flattened under the milk or wildly unbalanced weight between bags.

Voting closed 21

The bagger didn't allow me to bag my own purchases or use my own bags. He didn't bag the multi-pack of paper towels and put the pork in with the other food (which I didn't see at the time)

So when I got outside, I put the multi-pack paper towels in my own bag (I was walking, very difficult to carry multiple heavy bags and a non-bagged bulky item for a half mile). Realizing that the bagger had put the raw pork upright, without a barrier bag (meaning plastic, no handles), into a paper bag with all the other food, pulled that out and put it in a plastic bag I had brought. Thus the other food was protected and the paper bag wouldn't get wet from pork juices (likely causing it to rip on the way home).

Packing bulk items into your own bag after you leave the store is ok, but meat, and especially pork, chicken, and fish juices getting all over the other food is not ok. So if they still decline to pack those foods in a health-conscious way the next time I'm there, I'll have to consider if I really want them.

But Star is my usual market anyways as its closer to me.

FYI, when I got home, there was a little pork juice on the bottom of the paper bag. So I washed the cans but the vegetables were ok as I had put them in barrier bags - but I washed them anyways. What's good enough for cans is good enough for fresh vegetables!

Voting closed 7

There's a discussion of such studies here. It's not so clear as you claim, that the reusable effort "has backfired."

Though the studies looked at a number of environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing, water use in producing materials and the toxicity of the production processes, some less easily quantifiable (but equally important) factors were left out — namely, damage to marine wildlife and ecosystems, for which plastic bags are notorious.

The impact of reusables is ultimately a function of how many times they are used. I have bags from TJ's that are over 10 years old, and have probably been used 100 times. In places like Hawaii, where disposables are banned, reusables probably reach that level of use routinely.

Voting closed 19

The main point of reusable bags is to reduce the number of cheap disposable bags being thrown in the garbage or ending up as litter. To that end, I think the effort has been very successful.

Voting closed 14

How many fewer bags have been thrown out since the ban started? Keep in mind that people have to line their bathroom trash cans with something else if they don't get plastic grocery bags. Also note that the people who threw out their thin plastic bags might have switched to throwing out the new thick plastic bags.

How much has plastic bag litter decreased? I'm not sure how you'd even measure this.

Voting closed 5

How much has plastic bag litter decreased? I'm not sure how you'd even measure this.

Since you apparently want to read some actual studies that measured the reduction of plastic-bag use due to use of reusables, here you go:

The English Plastic Bag Charge Changed Behavior and Increased Support for Other Charges to Reduce Plastic Waste

Single-use Bag Reduction and Recycling Program

Measuring the Effectiveness of Plastic Bag Laws (A survey of studies)


Voting closed 6

In the current context -- you are bringing into the store something which no one has any way of knowing about it's history. When was the last time that it was properly sanitized -- what was it used for last?

Then even if you do your own bagging you are placing the unknown bag on some surface which then needs to be sanitized before the next bag is packed. In the process of making yourself feel virtuous with respect to the environment you are putting everyone at risk.

Beyond the current pandemic -- There is no justification for using reusable bags for produce or meats -- this practice is just a food-borne epidemic of something waiting to happen.

Unless after every use you put your reusable bag through a hot water and bleach washing cycle -- you are very likely to harbor micro organisms in the fabric

OK if you want your cereal boxes or cans of dog food to be bagged in something with nice flowers on the outside -- and you never cross-contaminate with anything else -- I suppose that you could be allowed that.

If you you [the public are so adamant to ban one time sanitary, economical and actually not very polluting plastic] -- then the answer is One-time use brown paper bags [circa 1950's]

  1. Paper is sanitary
  2. Paper is relatively cheap
  3. Paper is a reusable / recyclable / sustainable resource
  4. Much of the paper used for bags and boxes can be recycled to make more paper in a process which automatically disinfects it
  5. It's raw material is one hundred percent Organic -- it requires nothing more than sunlight and rain to grow the trees used for pulp
  6. Brown paper for bags & boxes doesn't even need to be bleached -- so the process of making paper from pulp and recycled paper is fairly easy on the environment
Voting closed 6

Unless after every use you put your reusable bag through a hot water and bleach washing cycle -- you are very likely to harbor micro organisms in the fabric

You saying it doesn't make it true. A normal laundering of cloth bags would certainly dispose of any COVID-19-causing virus, and likely a lot of bacteria as well. Even if you were correct, hot-water and bleach washing is not a major hurdle; all our laundering systems are capable of doing it.

...so adamant to ban one time sanitary, economical and actually not very polluting plastic...

Not very polluting? The things are a disaster for marine life. I had to get a long painter's pole and screw a hook into the end to pull somebody's plastic bag down out of our tree the other day. It had hung there for a week, wrapped around a branch, and because it was not biodegradable, it would likely have been there for months.

Paper is a reusable / recyclable / sustainable resource

Except its energy footprint is significantly greater than plastic.

The trouble with paper bags: carbon emissions

So does that mean paper bags, which degrade more easily, are a better option? Not necessarily. Climate change has become the biggest environmental issue of our time, so it’s worth looking at things from an emissions standpoint. And on that score, paper bags fare worse.

Even though paper bags are made from trees, which are, in theory, a renewable resource, it takes significantly more energy to create pulp and manufacture a paper bag than it does to make a single-use plastic bag from oil.

People making simplistic, judgemental claims should be banned.

Voting closed 9