Coronavirus prompts Gov. Gavin Newsom to suspend California’s plastic bag ban

Plastic shopping bags.
The executive order does not affect cities and counties that adopted their own ordinances banning or regulating single-use plastic bags.
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)

Gov. Gavin Newsom has suspended California’s ban on grocery stores providing single-use plastic bags amid concerns that clerks may be at risk for exposure to the coronavirus if shoppers are required to supply their own reusable bags to carry their purchases home.

Newsom announced Thursday that he signed an executive order to suspend the 2016 plastic bag ban for 60 days after hearing concerns from the California Grocers Assn. about shoppers bringing reusable bags from home that are handled by store clerks filling them with groceries.

“We are being cautious to make sure there is no transmission of the virus,” said Dave Heylen, a vice president for the grocers’ group. He said the grocers will go back to abiding by the plastic bag ban when the order expires.


The executive order signed Wednesday does not affect the more than 100 cities and counties that adopted their own ordinances banning or regulating single-use plastic bags.

The governor’s executive order also approves a 60-day pause in redemption of beverage containers in stores and a mandate for recycling centers to operate a minimum number of hours.

Newsom’s order said the suspensions are “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 or recyclable containers where recycling centers are not available.”

Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, which had supported the Legislature’s approval of the ban, said the order is unnecessary.

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“Reusable bags are perfectly safe, and pose zero threat to store employees and other customers as long as consumers take responsibility to bag their own groceries,” Murray said.

The California Legislature approved the ban on single-use plastic bags to rid beaches and streets of litter, allowing retail stores to charge customers 10 cents to provide paper or reusable plastic bags when shoppers do not bring their own bags.


The measure was opposed at the time by a group of bag-makers, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which said the ban would hurt the economy while enriching grocery stores that can charge customers for paper and reusable bags.

Officials with the alliance and other industry groups including the Plastic Industry Assn. did not immediately respond to calls for comment on the governor’s order.

The plastic bag ban was supported by groups including Heal the Bay and Californians Against Waste, which said similar policies in cities were reducing plastic-bag litter and pollution and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.