Right now, New Jerseyans are hunkering down and taking necessary precautions to remain healthy during the fight against the COVID-19 virus. Many of us are frightened and are struggling — because we can’t visit loved ones who are sick, because we’ve been laid off, or because we’re feeling isolated. That’s why I am so disappointed to learn that the Plastics Industry Association and its supporters like the New Jersey Food Council are making unverified, misleading claims and using this crisis for their own financial gain.
The Plastics Industry Association recently sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requesting it make a public statement endorsing an unsubstantiated assertion that single-use plastics are the safest choice amid the pandemic, while some misguided lawmakers in New Jersey are calling for rollbacks of or easing prohibitions on single-use plastic bags, arguing that often-unwashed reusable bags are hotbeds for the coronavirus.
It is unconscionable that profit-driven, single-use plastic bag proponents are spreading false information while people are vulnerable and seeking good advice.
Single-use plastic bags can transmit pathogens from those handling them in the store just like any other product. In fact, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 17, 2020, COVID-19 stays on plastics longer than cardboard — roughly three times longer. You don’t hear the plastics industry promoting paper bags as a safer measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus—because they wouldn’t profit.
Here are some facts about the detrimental impact of single-use plastic bags:
New Jersey has become ground zero for plastics litter. Surrounded by water on three sides and positioned between New York City and Philadelphia, most of the litter found on our beaches is plastic, and scientists are increasingly finding microplastics in waterways. These small pieces of plastic now permeate our lives: they are in the water we drink, the fish we eat, and the air we breathe, posing health concerns for New Jersey residents and other wildlife.
In all corners of New Jersey, municipalities recognized this threat and have passed over 110 ordinances banning or limiting the usage of single-use plastic bags. Although the Legislature is lagging behind local communities on addressing this problem, the New Jersey Senate recently passed a bill (S-864) banning the use of single-use plastic and paper carryout bags as well as polystyrene foam containers.
If passed, the bill will prevent pollution from entering our waterways, preserve our state's unique natural history, and help end our reliance on single-use plastic products. It's what's best for our families and it's what's best for our economy.
This is not a time to mislead the public. It’s unspeakable that during this time of crisis we have to worry about misinformation propagated by the plastics industry.
My heart aches for the lives that have been lost and those struggling during this pandemic, and I am grateful to our first responders, medical professionals, and grocery store employees on the front lines. As New Jerseyans responsibly shop in the days and months ahead, I urge us all to heed the advice of public health experts to wash our reusable bags and continue to take them with us when we go grocery shopping, following social distancing procedures, and not buy into the scare tactics of those who seek profits over public health.
Ed Potosnak is executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.