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Sununu Lifts N.H.'s Ban On Reusable Bags During Pandemic

Annie Ropeik

Reusable shopping bags will be allowed again at New Hampshire grocery stores, after Gov. Chris Sununu lifted the state’s COVID-19 ban on reusable bags Monday.

The ban, one of the first like it in the country, had been in place since March. It stemmed from fears that bags brought from people’s homes could further the spread of the coronavirus.

Scientists say the bags are safe as long as people wash them between uses; that single-use plastics are just as susceptible to carrying the virus; and that face masks are a far more effective way of preventing new infections.

New Hampshire is the only New England state without a mask requirement.

Got a question or idea about we should cover climate change in New Hampshire? Click here to share it with our new reporting project, By Degrees.

In a Tweet announcing the bag order was lifted, Sununu urged grocery shoppers to be courteous to workers by washing their bags. For most bags, you can do that in a washing machine with hot water and detergent or with disinfecting cleaning spray.

The nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, which works on ocean plastic pollution among other issues, applauded Sununu's decision. 

"Single-use products pose persistent threats to public health and the planet that will be with us long after the COVID-19 crisis," said Surfrider regional manager Melissa Gates. "Now that we know that the precautionary move early on to ban reusable bags in the COVID crisis is not needed, terminating the ban is the right thing to do." 

But Gates says she hopes Sununu will go a step further and direct stores to have customers bag their own groceries, which scientists have said would also do more to protect workers than the reusable bag ban did. 

"This limits common touch points out of an abundance of caution and importantly, helps maintain the physical distancing we know is needed to prevent virus spread," Gates says. 

Sununu's order, provided to media Monday but not immediately posted online, simply terminates the original ban and does do not address reusable containers for bulk goods, which some stores have prohibited in recent months.

This story has been updated with further comment from the Surfrider Foundation.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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