MONTVILLE, NJ - Plastic pollution is getting much worse, but some of this is avoidable. The virus survives on plastic longer than on cotton, a porous material, which means plastic is not safer than clean reusable cotton bags.  As evidence indicates that the virus primarily spreads through aerosolized droplets, and not as much through contact with surfaces, your choice of grocery bag won’t affect your safety.  Reusable grocery bags are safe to use during this pandemic.

While the issue of single-use plastic was already a troubling problem, plastic pollution has skyrocketed with the surge in take-out orders, use of disposable masks and gloves, and the switch to single-use plastic bags.  But is it necessary?

Public health experts and scientists agree that reusables are still safe.  In mid-June, a group of over 100 scientists from around the world published a statement asserting that reusables were still safe to use.  The statement, which is endorsed by scientists, academics, doctors, and specialists in public health and food packaging safety around the world, assert that cleaning reusables with detergent and soap is an effective way to continue using them during this time. 

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While we don’t have definitive timings of viability, there is no indication that plastic surfaces are safer in terms of virus survival.  Recent studies indicate that in controlled settings, the coronavirus survives on cotton fabric for up to 2 days and plastic up to 3 days, and even 7 days in one study.  A July study in The Lancet suggested that these timings are shorter in real-world settings.

Regardless of which bag you use, the chances of contracting the virus through your grocery bag are exceedingly small, since transmission requires a certain amount of viable viral load.  Emerging evidence is also showing that transmission occurs primarily through aerosolized droplets expelled from your mouth and nose, and less so through contact of surfaces.  Even so, washing your reusable bags is an important step in promoting community safety.

At least for now, we need to learn to live with this virus safely, without destroying the planet at the same time.  This means continuing to cut down on food waste, requesting restaurants switch to paper-based take-out containers, using reusable masks when appropriate, and using washed and clean reusable grocery and produce bags. 

Bansari Shah is a member of the Montville Environmental Commission.  For more tips on how to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, follow EcoWatch or Zero Waste in Montville on Facebook & Instagram.