Durango residents face one more difficult choice at grocery stores during the COVID-19 era: Which is worse for personal health, reusable or plastic grocery bags?
Some Durango residents and grocery stores are worried reusable bags will spread the coronavirus. Others are concerned about the environmental impact of single-use plastic bags. Faced with inconclusive science, Durango food retailers have taken their own precautions.
“We don’t want any of our employees not feeling safe in their work environment,” said Hadley Guidry, marketing manager at Durango Natural Foods Co-op. “But at the same time, we are strong advocates of not using plastic bags and ... just trying to reduce our waste as a whole.”
The food co-op tried to find a compromise between public health precautions and environmental concerns. For example, during curbside pickup, employees bring food to customers in cardboard boxes. Customers can either keep the boxes or load the food into reusable bags.
Albertsons, City Market and Natural Grocers in Durango allow customers to bring in reusable grocery bags as long as the customer, not the cashier, bags the groceries.
San Juan Basin Public Health has not developed guidance on grocery bags for La Plata or Archuleta counties. However, the department does recommend washing reusable bags with one part bleach mixed with 50 parts water or another disinfection method, said Claire Ninde, spokeswoman.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also advises food retail employees to wash their hands after touching reusable grocery bags.
The measures are largely precautionary. Because the virus is so new, public health officials cannot turn to a large body of research for guidance. One study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine on April 16, showed the virus can remain on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours. It is less stable on copper and cardboard, and the study did not analyze cloth.
While the study mentioned plastic, it did not analyze the virus’ behavior on single-use and reusable materials.
Some states have turned away from reusable bags. For example, New Hampshire and Massachusetts temporarily banned reusable bags during the coronavirus outbreak. Others, like Maine, have postponed previously approved plastic bag bans.
The Colorado Legislature was supposed to consider a bill prohibiting single-use plastic bags and straws, but the session went on hold in March because of the virus. It is scheduled to reconvene in May.
Durango City Council was also scheduled to consider ways to reduce plastic bag use in Durango during an April 7 study session. The council shelved the discussion in favor of safety-focused policy discussions during the pandemic, said Mitchell Carter, city spokesman.
For the environmentally minded, more single-use plastic means more pollution. One-third to two-thirds of the debris on beaches comes from single-use, disposable plastic packaging from food and beverage-related goods and services, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We’re trying to find that happy medium of how we can still be good to the Earth, but also stop spreading this virus,” Guidry said.