Two steps forward, one step back. The movement away from single-use plastic items was gaining momentum, but has been largely “quarantined” with the arrival of the pandemic. Staying safe necessitates some throw-away items. However, evidence supports the safety of using objects like reusable grocery bags and travel coffee mugs.

We now understand that the novel coronavirus is much more likely to spread from close contact with an infected person rather than surface transmission. The CDC’s website states that no cases of COVID-19 have been identified where infection was thought to have occurred by touching a contaminated surface, including shopping bags. Still, many businesses are wary to have their employees handle our reusable items like personal bags and coffee mugs. But think about it this way: the virus can likely survive just as well on single-use bags and cups as it can on our own items. So if we’re properly cleaning our own items, we’ve just eliminated all of the contact it would take to get those single-use objects to the point where that employee grabs them at the checkout or coffee stand.

Grocery store staff still might not accept your reusable bags like they used to, though some stores will, like Fred Meyer. There are two ways around this: see if they’ll let you bag your own, like they will at Safeway and Albertsons. If not, ask to just put the products back in the cart, Costco-style, and bag them at your car. That may be the easiest option if you are doing a lot of shopping. If you’re not shopping for much, the self check-out line is an easy place to bring your own bags. This can be a good option if you’d like to use your own mesh produce bags as well.

Most of us have plenty of reusable bags, especially cotton totes. Those should be washed after each use. But if you’d like to upgrade, one bag that’s locally made is perfect for our current situation. It’s called the “LastBag” and made by eqpd in Twisp (pronounced, “equipped”). Instead of a single-use plastic bag that will be reused once, these bags feature a lifetime guarantee. But what makes them especially great right now is that they are very easy to clean with spray disinfectant.

For your favorite espresso drink, ask your barista if they’d be willing to take your reusable cup. Again, handing them a clean mug to fill, with clean hands, should not be a problem (masks on, of course!). Some at drive-thru stands are happy to do this, such as JB Steamers in East Wenatchee. But if you find it’s a no-go, and you’re in a store or cafe, you can just ask for your drink “for here” and pour it in your to-go cup yourself.

Jana Fischback is executive director of Sustainable Wenatchee, a nonprofit that promotes a culture of environmental stewardship and social sustainability in the Wenatchee Valley.

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