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Shoppers are being asked not to use reusable bags during crisis, what this could mean for plastic bag bans in San Luis Obispo

Posted at 11:58 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-10 06:59:30-04

Many plastic bag bans have been reversed due to fears that the coronavirus could linger on reusable shopping bags. Grocery stores across the country have asked shoppers to use new plastic or paper bags.

The city of San Luis Obispo was ahead of the curve when they decided to ban plastic bags in 2012.

Shoppers heading to the grocery stores had to get accustomed to bringing their own reusable bags or decide to pay ten cents per bag.

However, recent fears that COVID-19 could be transmitted from reusable bags to grocery store employees, has caused local stores and chains to re-think the bagging process, with states and cities across the country easing restrictions on plastic.

"We've been tracking that many grocery chains have advised their employees and staff not to touch consumer bags or reusable bags that are brought into the stores," said Brooks Stayer, Integrated Waste Management Authority executive director.

After years of a plastic bag ban in place, the coronavirus pandemic might mean plastic is here to stay for the time being, as San Luis Obispo County's Integrated Waste Management Authority will support the measures grocery stores believe will keep their employees safe.

"We are going to advise our board at the next meeting that we should allow them to take any precautions they believe will protect their employees and staff," said Brooks.

Many grocery stores have recently put up sneeze guards at check stands and employees are now equipped with masks and gloves, but bags were another safety measure chains believed needed to be addressed.

The Vons and Albertsons public affairs director, Melissa Hill, said in a statement to KSBY: "Out of an abundance of caution, our associates have been directed not to use a customer’s reusable bags for packing groceries. Customers can still use their bags brought from home, but they will need to pack their own groceries in these situations."

As more plastic bags are expected to be used while checking out, local landfills haven't seen the surge of plastic yet, but they advise shoppers to know how to properly dispose of them.

"If you're using plastic bags, either re-use them, which a lot of people do, or throw them away. Don't put them in the recycling because they're not recyclable," said John Ryan, Cold Canyon Processing Facility site manager.

The Integrated Waste Management Authority board is set to meet on May 13 to discuss the county's decision on the use of plastic bags due to the coronavirus.