Win!!! Loving Reusables in the Time of COVID

By David Krueger, NCRA President, 7/13/20
Editor’s Note: This is an update of the June 9 article – Loving Reusables in the Time of COVID, in which NCRA  recommended counties be encouraged to revise their SIP Orders to allow reusables with some restrictions, provided the customers and the store follow Cal-OSHA guidelines (pdf),

On March 16, 2020  Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Mateo Counties, plus the City and County of San Francisco and the City of Berkeley issued identical Shelter-in-Place Orders. (APNews, 3/16/20) On March 31, these jurisdictions issued identical updated Orders which banned reusables in retail establishments. These Orders all contained the same language on reusables, found in Appendix A of each Order: Social Distancing Protocol, Measures to Prevent Unnecessary Contact, which is a checklist for businesses to follow and directed to post:

Not permitting customers to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home. 

This language was then adopted by other jurisdictions including Napa and Sonoma Counties.

In response, on June 10 NCRA emailed custom letters to more 10 Northern California health officials, asking them to change their Orders to allow reusables again. and encouraging them to use the language from the Mendocino County Order:

Not permitting customers to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home that must be handled by employees. Customers bringing their own reusable items that do not require handling by employees is permissible.

To date, Alameda County and Contra Costa County have adopted the Mendocino language allowing reusables, as requested by NCRA.

The City of Berkeley’s Order (which supersedes Alameda County’s) states that “Customers are permitted to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home, but they must not place them on any surfaces” making it difficult to use the items as “surfaces” includes shopping carts.

Santa Clara County’s Order stills says “Do not allow customers to use their own cups or other reusable food containers from home for takeaway”, but allows customers to use their own shopping bags as long as businesses “Require customers using reusable bags from home to bag their own groceries”. On July 1, Napa County adopted the Santa Clara language regarding reusable bags in response to letters from NCRA.

The City and County of San Francisco has stated that they will be revising their Order on July 13 to allow reusable bags “… provided customers follow specified measures to bag their own items and ensure reusable bags do not touch employees or check-out conveyors”.  Santa Cruz County’s Health Officer, Dr. Gail Newel, responded to the NCRA letter that “I am fully supportive and nothing in our local orders or guidance prohibits such practices.”

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