To fight coronavirus, veto Washington's plastic bag ban

About the Author
Todd Myers
Vice President for Research

Update added below 3/19/20

Like other states, Washington is taking extraordinary measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The governor can do one simple thing to reduce a source of potential spread: veto the ban on plastic bags.

This session, the legislature adopted SB 5323, which would ban plastic grocery bags. I’ve addressed the environmental problems of plastic bag bans in the past – the ban will probably increase water and air pollution. The current concern over the coronavirus adds another reason to oppose the ban. It has been known for several years, reusable bags are vectors for disease.

The ban is not set to take effect until January 1, 2021, but grocery stores will be preparing and some have already removed plastic bags. The ban would impact only those who have not already switched. A veto might only have a small, but important impact. If a veto prevented one additional person from contracting the virus, it would be worth it. If the governor signs the ban and health authorities detect the virus on reusable bags this year, there will be – and should be – a political price to pay for the recklessness at a time when so many other, more difficult, steps are being taken.

If the legislature is still committed to banning the bags (which, again, is unscientific), they can adopt the bill again next year and have it take effect on July 1, 2021. This would only be a six-month delay. And, if we find the coronavirus is still a problem in December, we will have avoided a needless risk.

People across the state are sacrificing a great deal to fight coronavirus. This is a simple step that can complement the other actions and reduce a known risk of infection.


Some jurisdictions are already reducing the use of reusable bags to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Olympia declared a state of emergency and waived enforcement of the charge for paper bags to “reduce the level of contact store workers have with reusable bags brought in from customers’ homes.” The state of Maine is considering delaying their new law banning plastic bags. The TV station reporting the potential delay noted that it asked a university researcher to test reusable bags and “found bacteria on every bag she tested.”

Compared to many of the more drastic steps being taken, vetoing the ban is a simple way to prevent a potential disease vector.

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