By Rob Roper
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vermont Legislature passed a law banning the use of plastic bags at retail stores beginning in July 2020. Whether or not you agreed or disagreed with that decision before health and safety concerns took center spotlight, today this policy is indefensible. The ban should be repealed, or at the very least postponed until such a time as a vaccine for the virus is readily available.
Unfortunately, legislators hellbent on pushing forward with their ideological agenda show no interest in pursuing this commonsense step. Speaking in a meeting of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, which he chairs, Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison) said, “We’re not interested in changing the law.”
The purpose of the plastic bag ban was to forcibly “nudge” Vermonters into having to use reusable bags to do their shopping. However, several studies have shown that there are health risks associated with doing so (COVID-19 related and otherwise). Asking checkout clerks to handle bags that may not be sanitary, as well as encouraging shoppers to bring bags that may not be sanitary into stores in the first place, are totally unnecessary risks when dealing with a contagion.
Ironically perhaps, many stores in the wake of COVID-19 outright banned the use of reusable bags or put restrictions on their use (customers have to bag their own groceries if they want to use them, and, in some cases, do so outside of the building) precisely because of the potential health risks they pose.
The virus is not going away before July. There is a good chance it comes back in force next fall. By most estimates, we are at least a year away from a vaccine, if we ever get one. To deny stores an option to better protect the health and safety of their employees and customers is just deranged.
Proponents of the plastic bag ban argue that the danger from reusable bags is small. Even if they are correct, our lawmakers have been demanding of us citizens that we do and don’t do many things that would involve small risk of spreading the disease — everything from wearing masks to not being able to purchase “non-essential” items in a store we’re already in. And, for the most part we have complied out of respect for the public good.
People have given up their livelihoods to help fight COVID-19 based on what these politicians have told us to do. But, asked to give up a small piece of their radical agenda, even temporarily, for the greater good, their answer is a resounding “NO.” And that, folks, is mighty telling.