Covid 19 and Microplastics – It’s not good news

Covid-19 and microplastics – It’s not good news

Stephanie Matthews 27/03/2020

In 2019, the world was getting to grips with reducing single use plastic, especially single use supermarket bags. These are the ones which end up as microplastics in the oceans. Major companies and whole countries were setting targets for reductions and even banning some products altogether. On the 1st March 2020, even New York joined in by banning single use plastic shopping bags. Then along came Covid-19.

The virus has to be tamed, and this aim must take top priority. Unfortunately some U.S. lobby groups are using fear about the virus to push their pro-plastic agendas. Who are these groups? Those supporting the chemical and plastic industries of course. 

Their arguments centre around hygiene. In very emotive language, reusable shopping bags are being described as “virus laden” and “ petri dishes for bacteria, and carriers of harmful pathogens”.  The justification for these comments come from researchfrom 20111, funded by the American Chemistry Council, which represents plastics manufacturers. This contentious research found that reusable bags contain bacteria. The lobby groups have now, 9 years later, suggested that reusable bags are a higher risk for transmitting Covid-19 than plastic bags. This not only misrepresents recent research that shows the virus survives on plastic for up to 9 days 2,3, but is a blatant attempt to exploit peoples fears about Covid-19. The aim of the lobbyists is to push the use of plastic and to defeat or repeal ‘plastic bag ban’ legislation. They have gone further by suggesting that reusable bags are putting the public and retail workers at risk – nonsense. 

Last week a number of US states and cities took the decision to roll back single use plastic bag bans and some repealed the ban altogether. New Hampshire and Massachusetts went further by issuing an order banning reusable bags, saying they risk spreading coronavirus. The lobby groups have seen the crisis as an opportunity to get the single use plastic bag ban reversed and reusable bags banned. Postponement of the ban to allow easy delivery during the crisis is one thing, complete reversal of the ban is unacceptable. Misrepresenting the science and banning reusable bags sets a dangerous precedent.

New York State has postponed enforcement of its single use plastic bag ban until June.Then what? Covid-19 will be dangerous for a few years, microplastics in the oceans will be dangerous for longer than that. 


  1. Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags in Food Protection Trends 31(8):508-513 · August 2011)
  2. Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents Journal of Hospital Infection, March 2020, vol 104, issue 3, pp246-251 G. Kampfa, D. Todtb, S. Pfaenderb, E. Steinmannb DOI: 
  3. Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 as compared to SARS-CoV-1 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2004973

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