Those plastic bag bans aren't looking so good right now

Bans on single-use plastic bags were all the rage over the past few years, particularly on the west coast and in the northeast. We were told that those bags were ruining the planet and we would stave off the end of the world if we outlawed them. As a replacement, we were instructed to purchase reusable cloth bags and bring them with us to the stores. But now that the coronavirus is stalking the streets, things have changed. The cloth bags have porous surfaces that the virus can cling to and remain dangerous for up to three to five days. With that in mind, multiple states have now postponed their upcoming rules or canceled enforcement of bans that were already on the books. (Route Fifty)

In Maine, lawmakers halted the implementation of a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags until 2021, while officials in New York said they would not begin enforcing a planned moratorium on plastic bags until at least May. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu halted the use of reusable bags in his state via an emergency health order, which he said was necessary due to confirmed community transmission of the virus in New Hampshire.

“It is important that shoppers keep their reusable bags at home given the potential risk to baggers, grocers and customers,” Sununu said in a statement. “This emergency order directs all grocers and retail stores in the state to temporarily transition to only use new paper or plastic grocery bags provided by stores as soon as feasibly possible.”

It’s not just New Hampshire and New York doing this. In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker issued an executive order banning reusable bags and lifting local bans on plastic ones. He also forbade stores from charging an extra fee for plastic or paper bags. Connecticut’s governor is lifting their tax on plastic bags.

If the original plastic bags were an overreaction in one direction, this sudden about-face may be a similar move in reverse. We’re now pretty sure that the coronavirus can be easily destroyed with soap and water. The reusable bags are washable. If people just took the time to wash them after each shopping trip, they shouldn’t be hazardous to grocery clerks or other shoppers.

Oh, who am I kidding? We can’t even stop people in New York City from clustering in crowded, unlicensed speakeasies. Do we really think enough of them will bother tossing their reusable bags into the laundry every time they come back from the grocery store to make a difference?

What we’re seeing here is probably a fairly compelling indictment of the nanny-state. Liberal governments are more than happy to dictate every aspect of our lives down to the most insignificant bits of minutia. They justify such things by lecturing us on the “bigger picture” and our responsibilities to save the planet or promote “social justice.” But when an actual crisis comes along and smacks them in the face, such lofty ideals quickly go out the window. The “urgent need” for everyone to start bringing reusable bags to the store disappears when a deadly virus may be lurking in the fabric.

I don’t say this as a way to mock these decisions to reverse the bans. It was probably the right thing to do, at least to stay on the safe side. But is it too much to hope that this will serve as a teachable moment for liberal elected officials? When the pandemic is over, will they rethink their micromanaging ways or just go back to the old, liberal, business as usual agenda?

Sadly, I suspect we already know the answer to that one. But I’d love to be proven wrong for a change.