Among the many bad things to come out of the coronavirus pandemic is the resurgence of single-use plastic.

In early March, weeks before California adopted the nation’s first stay-at-home orders and when toilet paper could still be found in abundance on store shelves, Starbucks stopped accepting customer’s refillable cups for fear that they might expose baristas to infection. Dunkin’ Donuts followed suit.

Then grocery stores told people to keep their potentially germy reusable bags to themselves and began foisting new plastic and paper bags on shoppers. San Francisco, home of the state’s first plastic bag ban, was one of six Bay Area counties to forbid shoppers from bringing reusable bags into stores.

And last week — right on the heels of Earth Day — Gov. Gavin Newsom suspended California’s pioneering ban on single-use plastic bags for 60 days, allowing stores in cities that didn’t have their own ban before 2015 to forgo charging a 10-cent fee for paper or reusable plastic sacks, and to fall back on the flimsy single-use plastic ones if necessary. Pending plastic bag bans in other parts of the country have been put on hold.

It’s understandable that fears about a spreading pathogen that we still don’t understand well has led to emergency measures such as these. Who knows how this virus is getting around? Grocery store workers, who are at high risk for exposure because of their interaction with customers, ought to be protected as much as possible. But we hope that this current health crisis isn’t an excuse to abandon years of hard-won progress toward reducing our reliance on disposable plastic packaging.

Of course, the plastic industry would love for crusading California to relinquish its position as the nation’s leader on innovative waste reduction, especially when a comprehensive proposal to diminish the use of plastic packaging may be on a future state ballot. (Proponents have launched a digital signature-gathering effort to complete their campaign for the November ballot, which was derailed by the pandemic).

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