The American Chemistry Council (ACC) funded research report, ‘Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags,’ has sparked intense media attention and public health concerns across the world.
Startling conclusions in the ACC report found that coliform bacteria including E.Coli were in half the bags that were tested. The bacteria was capable of growth when stored in trunks of cars and a large amount of bacteria was found in every reusable bag but none found in new bags or plastic bags. The study concluded that almost all consumers don’t wash their reusable bag which is the contributing factor to bacteria growth. The study also found that hand or machine washing reduced the bacteria in reusable bags by more than 99.9%.
According to the Telegraph newspaper in the UK, “Reusable shopping bags are a threat to public health,” the popularity of reusable eco-friendly shopping bags has soared in Britain much like the US. Tests on shoppers’ bags revealed half contained traces of E.coli, a lethal toxin which killed 26 people in Scotland in 1996 in one of the world’s worst food poisoning outbreaks. Scientists also found many were contaminated with salmonella. American TV station ABC also reports on this debated topic with the following video, “Are Bacteria in your reusable shopping bag??”
Not only do reusable bags contribute to potential health risks, they’re heavier and consume more volume than plastic bags which require more trucks to transport and increases the harmful greenhouse gas emissions within our environment. Eventually a reusable bag will enter the landfill and due to their density they take up greater landfill space than plastic bags. During the degradation process, reusable bags such as cotton/jute bags produce methane in the landfill. Jute bags are made out of fertilized crops that deplete our natural resources as they require water and energy resources to fertilize these crops. The Plastics and Rubber Weekly (PRW) publication reported in November of 2009 concerns raised from the UK Carrier Bag Consortium (CBC): During the manufacturing process, Jute and cotton bags are dipped in paraffin/petroleum before leaving for the UK to kill the eggs of parasites which lay in the rolls of raw material in un-sanitised storage conditions. The CBC also brought to light about the working age, conditions, hygiene, air quality and many other aspects of the jute industry which has been reported by the national media.
The debate surrounding carrier bag alternatives can be quite confusing for the average person who really just want to do the right thing. Not to mention the abundance of greenwashing claims from brands we trust. In order to truly reduce our environmental impact while not posing additional health risks to our loved ones and ourselves; one really needs to do their homework to consider all factors when choosing what carrier bag you’re going to carry home from your grocery store.