An order promulgated by Governor Charlie Baker lifts the restrictions on reusable bags. You can bring your own bags once more!

On March 25, following the declaration of a state of emergency in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Governor Baker issued a series of guidelines for grocery stores, which included a suspension of all local bag laws.

On July 10, Governor Baker rescinded his earlier temporary order. (Note: Mayor Ruthanne Fuller has granted Newton merchants and shoppers an extension until September 1, to comply with the city ordinance that bans plastic bags.)

Given the unknowns at the time, Governor Baker was doubtless correct to err on the side of caution. But as public health advocates have since pointed out, the risk of transmission from reusable bags was always negligible compared to the risk of airborne pathogens. Joseph Allen, a professor at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, notes that a perfect storm of factors is necessary to catch a virus from an inanimate surface.

As the New York Times and other outlets reported, the plastic industry took advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to roll back plastic bag legislation. This is an example of what political analyst Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism,” a deliberate corporate strategy for making money in a crisis. But as Melanie Duchin of Greenpeace, Peter Wang Hjemdahl of rePurpose Global, and many others have pointed out, every environmental problem is also a public health problem, and we should not use one crisis as an excuse to amplify another.

As of this writing 139 municipalities in Massachusetts have passed regulations to limit plastic bags, and more are in the works. We are all gratified to see the Commonwealth back on track to reduce plastic waste.

By Mass Green Network