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California lifts plastic bag ban to protect workers, shoppers
plastic bags
Grocery stores, like Turlock’s Save Mart on Geer Road pictured above, can now offer customers free plastic bags as Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted California’s ban on free, single-use plastic bags (Photo contributed).

Retailers throughout the state and in Turlock are applauding an executive order announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday which lifted California’s ban on free, single-use plastic bags.

Reusable bags have been the norm for shoppers since the state’s bag ban passed in 2016, but many stores have prohibited their use due to concerns that their use will contribute to the spread of the coronavirus. Newsom’s order will allow stores to provide customers with disposable plastic bags for 60 days, stating: “It is critical to protect the public health and safety and minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure for workers engaged in essential activities, such as those handling reusable grocery bags.”

The California Grocers Association and the California Retailers Association were advocates for recalling the ban, and local retailers like The Save Mart Company, the parent company of Save Mart, Lucky and FoodMaxx, thanked Newsom for allowing single-use bags again and eliminating their 10-cent charge.

The CGA and CRA wrote to Newsom last month, requesting he lift the bag ban until COVID-19 is no longer a threat in the state.

“This is a laudatory environmental policy, but it is simply not appropriate to expect our employees to handle and load customers’ used grocery bags at this time,” the groups wrote.

California’s bag ban had previously prohibited retailers from providing shoppers with the thin, single-use bags that were commonplace in most stores. In their stead, shoppers who forgot their own bags from home were required to pay 10 cents for more durable, reusable plastic bags at check-out. Now, it’s out with the new and in with the old thanks to the order. 

According to TSMC, the executive order allowing for single-use plastic bags not only protects grocery employees and customers, but also reduces economic burden for shoppers and makes buying groceries more convenient during the pandemic. All Save Mart, Lucky and FoodMaxx stores throughout California immediately instituted the policy.

“We want to thank Gov. Newsom for his thoughtfulness and swift action at this vital time in our history,” TSMC Senior Vice President of Retail operations Hal Levitt said.

According to TSMC Public Affairs Manager Victoria Castro, all of the company's stores had halted the use of reusable bags prior to Newsom’s announcement.

Newsom’s order doesn’t apply to cities and counties that passed their local bag laws that took effect before Jan. 1, 2015. There are about 80 of those, but Stanislaus County is not on the list.

The Centers for Disease Control has yet to issue guidance on reusable bags and the coronavirus, though the California Department of Industrial Relations has released health and safety guidelines that deem reusable bags as safe for retail employees, so long as customers leave them in their carts and bag their own groceries. There have been no published scientific studies showing whether or not the coronavirus can exist on reusable bags, which are typically made from plastic, cotton and other cloth.