Reusable bags are under fire due to concerns over spreading the coronavirus.
After years of increasing legislation banning single-use plastic bags, the “green wave” has crashed due to the COVID-19 crisis, creating a ripple effect throughout the promotional products industry.
States, cities and stores have changed their tune over the past few months, encouraging plastic bags rather than reusable bags because of fears over spreading the coronavirus. Even California, the pacesetter of the anti-plastic movement, has suspended its 4-year-old ban after certain studies have suggested that reusable bags, when not cleaned properly, can become veritable petri dishes for bacteria and the like. In order to better protect their workers and customers, retail, grocery and plastic industry advocates have rallied for plastics to be reinstated at least for the time being.
It’s been a reversal of fortune for promo firms who’ve benefitted from selling branded totes and other reusable bags in recent years. “Our sales have dropped since the pandemic due to the shutdown, and we’ve been hit extra hard because of stores removing reusable bags,” says Andy Keller, founder and CEO of California-based ChicoBag Company (asi/44811). “Raley’s Supermarkets, for example, will not sell new reusable bags as part of this, which has no basis in science or logic.”
Keller points to environmentalists and other ban advocates who’ve called studies linking reusable bags to increased disease spread dubious. They note that reusable bags are not necessarily any more or less contaminated than other surfaces at stores. Keller also argues that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have all given guidance supporting the notion that reusable bags don’t pose a health threat. Although those organizations don’t specify whether the coronavirus is spread through reusable bags, the CDC does state “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.”
Despite trepidation from some clients, Top 40 supplier Bag Makers (asi/37940) is still seeing a demand for reusable nonwoven polypropylene bag styles. “While bag sales have slowed in general due to the economic impact of coronavirus, our customers continue to show interest in reusable bags for promotions and program business,” says Jennifer McFadden, communications director at Bag Makers.
The most popular bags during the pandemic, according to suppliers, have been paper, plastic and insulated bags that support restaurant takeout and delivery orders, as well as home grocery delivery.
“The nonwoven cooler sales spiked exponentially,” says Gary Semrow, owner and vice president of marketing at Illinois-based American Ad Bag (asi/35290). “We also had a large spike in demand for the wider gusseted paper shopping bags for the restaurants to do take-out, causing a tight supply chain. Now that most of the country is opening up, the stress on the supply of wide gusset paper shoppers has lessened.”
Deliveries of all kinds have experienced a surge during the pandemic, as consumers have turned to e-commerce for their goods. “Our poly mailer business is very strong now, as well as any other kind of packaging sold to online marketers,” says Ken Trottere, vice president of New York-based Poly-Pak Industries, Inc. (asi/81350).
Although the pandemic has prevented revenue from reusable bags, ChicoBag has seen a rise in other product categories. “We’ve seen a spike in sales for our bottle sling and travel pack because people are spending a lot more time walking, hiking and getting outdoors,” Keller says.