Plastic and single-use packaging, in general, hit its stride in part by suggesting that it was cleaner and more hygienic than paper or reusable options. However, as time has gone on, these benefits have taken a back seat to concerns about resource use and trash generation, which have caused many to question the dominance of single-use packaging.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, arguments for the superior hygiene benefits of single-use packaging are making a resurgence. This has been most notable in the suspension of single-use bag bans in much of the US. For instance, California suspended the charge for single-use plastic retail bags for 60 days. Many retailers have reverted to single-use bags, arguing that bags brought from a consumer’s home may be contaminated with the COVID-19 virus and put their employees at risk.
However, California’s Division of Occupational Safety & Health recommends that stores ask consumers to bag their own purchases as a response to concerns about contaminated bags. This can be done either in a designated bagging space, if the store has one, or at their own cars.
Although there is a fair bit of debate about how long the virus lasts on various surfaces – including plastic bags, paper bags, and textile bags – most seem to agree that the biggest hygiene challenge to retailers is person-to-person contact. As such, wearing masks, using shields and touch-free payment systems, and frequent hand washing are still the best solutions to preventing spread.
The long-term challenge is what the renewed availability of free plastic shopping bags will do to consumer habits, which had begun tilting toward reusable bags following years of phase in of different regulations.
For more information, see The Freedonia Group’s catalog of packaging research, including Retail Bags, and Global Single-Use Plastic Packaging Regulations as well as research from our sister publisher, Packaged Facts, covering the food and beverage industry. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.