During much of the COVID-19 lockdown, the grocery store I often go to prohibited customers from bringing their reusable bags into the store. They didn’t charge a fee, but someone stopped you at the door if they saw you — OK, they stopped me — with a cart full of reusables.
I got it — there’s a pandemic. Minimize risk, infection, exposure; don’t make the bagger touch my bag.
I’ve been bringing my own bags to stores for more than 40 years. I’m a die-hard. And I didn’t want to bring home the dozen bags that my now twice-a-month shopping trip would create. So I started putting my groceries back into the cart after checkout and then bagging them up at my car.
It took a little longer, but it worked.
Not all stores were keeping reusables out. Some had no change in policy; others let you bring your own bags in if you bagged your own groceries.
We deliver garden produce to a few people, and before the season started I checked to find out if they were comfortable with getting veggies in reusable bags. I launder my cloth bags and wash out my plastic reusables with dish detergent and a bleach solution, and hang them in the sun to disinfect them. I was pretty sure they were safe, but I also don’t want to put anyone at risk.
So I was happy to read a report from 125 public health experts from around the world stating that reusables are unlikely to spread coronavirus when cleaned between uses, and that they pose no higher risk than disposable plastic or paper bags.
Safety should be our primary concern, so if you are not confident you can keep your bags clean, I get why you don’t want to use them. But we also need to keep the future of our planet in mind, and the very real environmental problems caused by single-use plastics and other products. And that means acting responsibly — for yourself, others around you and for the planet.
Face masks, for instance, are important to prevent the droplets that come out of your mouth and nose when you speak, shout, sneeze or cough from spreading germs to others around you. I’m not sure why that’s so hard for people to understand — that we are wearing masks to protect others.
If you are using a reusable cloth mask, keep it clean. Wash it between uses. Hang it in the sun to dry. If you’re using disposables, make sure you dispose of them properly. We’ve seen reports — from The Guardian in England, from the New York Post, from press in San Francisco, France and Israel — of littered face masks and gloves on streets, parks, sidewalks, waterways and washing up on beaches.
Right now we should all be concerned with minimizing the risk of spreading the disease, and doing whatever we can to keep ourselves and others safe.
But we have to think of the future, too. This planet is our home. Let’s keep it clean.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on July 19. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.