Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Darker Side of Reusable Grocery Bags

Kudos to those who have started using renewable grocery bags when they shop. Lord knows our depleted planet needs any relief from the parasites that are us which we can possibly give it. But like all things in life, there are sometimes unintended trade-offs, and a few of these are becoming evident as consumers make the switch from paper or plastic to reusable grocery bags.

One thing people need to be aware of is the possibility for contamination from reuse. For example, if you put a hunk of meat in your bag, and it drips, you could start your own little E-coli culture in the bottom of the bag, which could sicken your family if the next time you place vegetables or other food items in it. A joint study by the University of Arizona and Lona Linda University in California found that half of the 84 reusable bags they tested had coliform bacteria, which is not surprising considering 97% of users said they never wash them.

Also concerning was a recent report by the Tampa Tribune, which found that reusable bags purchased at Winn-Dixie, Publix, Sweetboy, Walmart and Target all contained lead. This is particularly troublesome given that we put our food in them. The good news, according to testers, is that the lead seems to be in paint used for illustrations on the bag, which wouldn't easily rub off on food, though it might eventually flake.

In response, retailers are asking suppliers to make reusable bags with less lead, and some are calling on federal agencies to put a ban in place for reusable bags that contain lead. Don't ask us why it's so hard to make bags without any lead, but apparently, it is.

Reusable grocery bags currently make up 10% to 15% of the market, and are expected to grow to as much as 25% in the next few years. And there's good reason to be using them. Plastic bags are the world's second most common form of marine debris (the first is cigarette butts) according to a 2009 report by Ocean Conservancy, an environmental group.

Just be sure to take proper precautions. Wash your bag regularly, particularly after using it to transport something that is potentially hazardous, such as raw meat. Or you can make an exception for meat products and stick with the stores plastic bags rather than transport it in your reusable one. That way you can have guilt-free shopping while ensuring your family's safety at the same time. Almost guilt free, I should say ...there's nothing to be done about that bag of cookies in the cart.

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