Plastic bag-bans suspended amidst coronavirus pandemic

A year after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law against cities and towns banning plastic bags, more cities are suspending their bans because of the coronavirus pandemic.


“I want to make sure I make it easy for industry to do business in Oklahoma,” Stitt said at the time he signed the measure in April 2019. “I just don’t think that we should be putting laws and rules on business from 500 municipalities.”

Oklahoma stood out from other states where cities enforced bans on plastic sacks and encouraged shoppers to bring reusable bags. That has all changed—-thanks to the coronavirus. The Associated Press found that in a matter of days, bans to reduce the use of plastics and especially those plastic shopping sacks have come under fire across the country because health experts fear the virus can cling to the sacks.

Governors in Massachusetts and Illinois have banned or strongly discouraged the use of reusable grocery bags. Oregon suspended its brand-new ban on plastic bags this week, and cities from Bellingham, Washington, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, have announced a hiatus on plastic bag bans as the coronavirus rages.

Add to that a rise in takeout and a ban on reusable cups and straws at the few coffee stores that remain open, and environmentalists worry COVID-19 could set back their efforts to tackle plastic pollution for years.

“People are scared for their lives, their livelihood, the economy, feeding their loved ones, so the environment is taking a back seat,” said Glen Quadros, owner of the Great American Diner & Bar in Seattle.

Quadros has laid off 15 employees and seen a 60% decline in business since Seattle all but shut down to slow the pandemic. For now, he’s using biodegradable containers for takeout and delivery, but those products cost up to three times more than plastic — and they’re getting hard to find because of the surge in takeout, he said.

“The problem is, we don’t know what’s in store,” Quadros said. “Everyone is in the same situation.”

The plastics industry has seized the moment and is lobbying hard to overturn bans on single-use plastics by arguing disposable plastics are the safest option amid the crisis. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont have statewide bans on plastic bags, and Oregon and California have laws limiting the use of plastic straws.

New York’s statewide plastic bag ban is on hold because of a lawsuit.

The Plastics Industry Association recently sent a letter to Alex Azar, head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and asked him to speak out against plastic bag bans because they put consumers and workers at risk. And the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance is doubling down on its opposition to plastic bag bans under a preexisting campaign titled Bag the Ban.

Oklahoma’s law to ban laws prohibiting the use of plastic sacks came about after the city of Norman revealed pans to adopt a 5-cent tax on single-use plastic bags.

Source: Associated Press