Why So Many News Outlets Are Promoting Plastic Bags Again
The fight against plastic bags – which was progressively succeeding in the U.S. and other parts of the world – has reached a halt. Amid the global health crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, fearmongering conservative think-tanks and their media partisans are moving forward with their plan. It implies the promotion of plastic bags as “safe” and useful instruments in the stopping of the new coronavirus spreading as opposed to reusable tote bags. Why does this happen? How does this happen? We will discuss such matters today.
The Plastic Bags Bans’ Rollbacks and Delays
Not so long ago, we reported on the New York’s plastic bag ban, a welcomed initiative embraced by the state’s officials. However, after some media outlets insisted that reusable shopping tote bags are worse than plastic bags when it comes to COVID-19 survival on surfaces and spreading, New York State has postponed enforcement of the plastic bag ban until June.
Experts from Greenpeace U.S.A. and some independent journals warn that such articles spread misinformation that aims to push back, defeat, and repel the current plastic bags bans. What is even worse is that all the media outlets that promote the resurrection of plastic bags link to some of the most prominent rightwing nonprofits and fossil fuel lobbyists, fostering an environment of public confusion and health risks.
Upon citing the COVID-19 pandemic, a handful of U.S. cities and states either postponed the enforcement of plastic bag bans or rolled them back entirely. It is the case of Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, to name a few. In these states, plastic bags came back with a vengeance, declared reusable tote bags as public enemies, and almost killed decades-worthy of environmental initiatives against plastic pollution. New York delayed the enforcement of the ban until June 1st, but things do not look peachy at all.
The Excuse behind this New Witch Hunt against Reusable Tote Bags
Pushing reusable tote bags into a corner of shadow while resurrecting the plastic bag as the savior of the world is the result of articles and campaigns led by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (C.E.I.). This nonprofit had a lot to say in the persuasion of the Trump administration to break up from the Paris Climate Agreement.
The researchers of this institute have been pedaling on the subject of the risks posed by reusable eco-friendly grocery bags in preserving the virus active on their surface for longer times than plastic bags do.
The efforts in demonizing reusable tote bags as breeding grounds for the COVID-19 and considering plastic bags as “safer” have received backup from the media.
A journal published by the Manhattan Institute suggests – without offering concrete proof – that sustainable shopping bags can carry the COVID-19 for up to nine days. Science begs to differ, but when some of your most generous sponsors and supporters come from the fossil fuel industry, one can easily ignore the facts.
The most recent studies on the transmission of COVID-19 and its survival on surfaces have found that the virus remains viable on plastic and steel for up to three days, and on copper or cardboard for up to 24 hours.
Research published this month, however, found that the new coronavirus can resist up to 2 days on cloth. We will discuss these studies more in-depth on a further occasion.
What we all have to understand at this point is that we do not have scientific studies to date that compared the virus’s resilience on the surface of reusable bags versus plastic bags.
On the other hand, there is evidence that the C.E.I. and the Manhattan Institute are proud to have among their donors some of the most critical players in the fossil fuel industry – the Charles Koch Institute and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers association.
While the law doesn’t require nonprofits to disclose their sponsors, the New York Times followed the money and reported on the C.E.I gala last year, emphasizing on the fossil fuel industry’s lobby and the current attempts of such players to put a gag on climate science.
According to Greenpeace U.S.A. ocean campaigners and specialists, misinformation regarding the spreading and survival of the new coronavirus on reusable shopping bags is one of the most used tools to repel plastic bag bans legislation these days.
The Reason behind this New Witch Hunt against Reusable Tote Bags
There is little doubt in Greenpeace’s mind that groups in the fossil fuel industry saw a great opportunity in this global health crisis and use peoples’ fears around COVID-19 pandemic to push their pro-pollution agendas.
John Hocevar, a member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition and ocean campaigner for Greenpeace recently stated that
Even in the short term, plastic does not inherently make something clean and safe, and we should not confuse corporate public relations with factual medical research. A study from the National Institutes of Health, C.D.C., UCLA, and Princeton University scientists in The New England Journal of Medicine has indicated that the virus could be stable on plastic surfaces for as long as two to three days. The truth is that we don’t have all of the answers to this COVID-19 emergency yet, and for the industry to use this as an opportunity to increase profits for the fossil fuel and plastics sectors is dangerous and irresponsible.
Politico, Mother Jones, and the New York Times also reported that the plastic industry and the fossil fuel players took the global health crisis as a sign it was their time to act and further blocked the laws limiting or prohibiting single-use plastic. What is worse is that the plastic lobby is not even subtle anymore, but in our faces.
The Plastics Industry Association requested the U.S. Department of Health that amid the COVID-19 pandemic to sanction the idea that “single-use plastic products are the most sanitary choice when it comes to many applications.”
A Mix of Ignorance, Fear, and Money
The misinformation campaign demonizing reusable tote bags in the U.S. in the benefit of plastic ones relies on a mix of contradictory studies, incomplete research, and peoples’ fear and ignorance. One journalist – otherwise vocal in naming reusable tote bags as “deadly” – claims that there is no such thing as ocean pollution caused by plastic bags.
The same journalist who failed to quote scientific research related to the resilience of the coronavirus on reusable tote bags also informed the public there was nothing wrong with landfills anyway.
The article fueling this aggressive media campaign against reusable tote bags actually quotes a study showing that the virus can remain active on plastic bags for nine days. So much for verifying your sources.
Other journalists and media outlets embraced this misinformation quest. While many are citing old research that has nothing to do with the COVID-19 (as they date back to 2011 or 2018), some are inserting half-truths among inconsistent and incomplete scientific evidence to concoct believable stories.
For instance, one of the most promoted papers is one comparing the resilience of bacteria – NOT VIRUSES – on different surfaces. Coincidently or not, that 2011 research received funding from the American Chemistry Council.
Ignoring the newest studies by quoting old ones, mixing the information because the public has little to no medical and scientific background, and fearmongering is an old tactic. Unfortunately, it is still thriving, even if the world is now warier about how fake news and pseudoscience work.
The supreme argument against reusable tote bags is that we need to wash and disinfect them after each use to keep them germ-free during the pandemic. In other words, if you have to wash a reusable item, it means that the item is unsafe and helps with the spread of the coronavirus. Are we to understand that the next big hit is going to be single-use plastic clothes?
To date, Great Britain waived the 5p charge on plastic bags for online supermarket shoppers as a temporary measure to speed deliveries and prevent potential cross-infections between delivery workers and the people at home. The Welsh government also takes some step backs in the restriction of single-use plastics.
You can read more about the media’s influence on the delaying or reverse of plastic bag bans here, together with the responses the reporters received from the journalists, experts, and nonprofits in question.
It is easy to fall in the trap of conspiracies, lobby, and agendas pushed from all sides. If you want a clearer view on why a part of the media is promoting the new advent of plastic bags, we recommend you do further research and draw your own conclusions. We still have a lot to learn about COVID-19. We should wash our hands and disinfect all surfaces and items we use, reusable shopping tote bags included.
However, we also have all the tools we need to speak truth to power when “journalists” and “experts” claim there is nothing to worry about when it comes to ocean pollution or landfills.