Reusable grocery bags may not be much improvement

Friday, July 16, 2010

We've all seen them, those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags cluttering up the the pantry, snagged on the bushes along the roadside.

Most of us find them useful for lining small trash cans or collecting trash or other random items, and to be fair, sources like Walmart promote recycling through collection sites in the entryway.

But that isn't good for some people in California, who want to ban the use of plastic bags altogether, forcing shoppers t0 "go green" with reusable grocery bags.

There's nothing wrong with reusing grocery bags, in fact, it's an idea that appeals to anyone with midwestern conservative values.

But besides being heavy-handed and authoritarian, forcing us to give up throw-away shopping bags can have health consequences, according to a joint food safety research report issued by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University.

Researchers randomly tested reusable grocery bags carried by shoppers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tucson, and found consumers almost completely unaware of the need to regularly wash the bags.

"Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half the bags sampled," said Charles Gerba, PhD, a University of Arizona environmental microbiology professor and co-author of the study. "Furthermore, consumers are alarmingly unaware of these risks and the critical need to sanitize their bags after every use."

Gerba, also known as "Dr. Germ," said bacteria levels found in reusable bags were significant enough to cause a wide range of serious health problems, even death. This was especially true for young children, who are especially vulnerable to foodborne illnesses.

The researchers said the danger is especially high in Los Angeles, where the weather is more conducive to bacteria growth.

If California is going to force consumers to go this direction, one of the researchers said, a major public education campaign needs to be conducted first.

Among the tips consumers should follow when using reusable bage:

* Separate raw foods from other food products

* Not use them for carrying school books or gym clothes

* Not store them in the trunks of cars because the higher temperature promotes bacteria growth.

Paper bags are a completely separate issue; are they really biodegradable when trapped in a landfill, and how much of an impact do they have on the environment?

Some grocery stores are selling reusable bags that contain antimicrobial products, but for most of us, washing the sacks is the best option for now.

One has to wonder, if grocery bags become part of the household laundry, how much are we actually reducing our carbon footprint.

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  • I agree, and very well said.

    -- Posted by Navyblue on Fri, Jul 16, 2010, at 5:23 PM
  • I have used canvas shopping bags for over 25 years. They are a very small part of my weekly landry. I never wash them by themselves and practice economical washing techniques. Common sense should tell you that reusing anything is a good thing. You just have to use a little brain power to be effctive. We as a society have gotten way to comforable with our use once and despose lifestyle.

    I have found that a large number of people that are trying to discourage the use of reusable shopping bags are in some way connected with the companys that make the plastic bags.

    So that causes me to question the motive behind this article. Is it that you want to educate the public about the concequences of using reusable bags or discourage their use????

    -- Posted by kaygee on Sat, Jul 17, 2010, at 1:28 PM
  • Kaygee

    I think it is interesting that you have used canvas shopping bags for so long.

    But it is a bit out there that there would be a plastic bag company conspiracy...no one is taking your bags away.

    The article just brings up some points for consideration...I dont want to be too blunt so I hope you dont take it as unproductive rather than something to reflect on but your position seems to be the one the one attacking free choice with terms like...

    "large number of people"

    "Connected with the companies"

    You seem to outline that people are with you or against you (and apparently with some conspiracy).

    Just make your points and I and other find them reasonable we can consider them. But to today...not so much

    -- Posted by MarcusTh on Sat, Jul 17, 2010, at 8:52 PM
  • I just wish they would teach the people at Wally world to not put raw meat with something that will be eaten raw drives me crazy. Put the meat in a seperate bag! Schmicks isn't as bad but they will occasioanlly do it too.

    Kaygee do you realize how paranoid you sound? The great shopping bag conspiracy. LMFAO. More power to you if you choose to use canvas bags but the point is the eco nuts want to force everyone to do so and that is the problem.

    -- Posted by Chaco1 on Sun, Jul 18, 2010, at 9:44 AM
  • Dindnt mean to sound parinoid or conspirisy theory minded. Just was pointing out what my experiences were with this kind of thing. I was just asking what the motive behind this article was! Dont want to force any thing on any one. I still use the plastic shopping bags too....they are real handy at the dog park and for picking up litter. I use about 10 of them a month.

    Started using canvas bags in the early 80s because my neice gave them to me as a present...found them to be real handy and was releived to not get the overwhelming number of plastic bags I got when shopping. They were stronger and held more produce without tearing. Havent dropped a gallon of milk or dozen eggs in the driveway years! They are practical and enviromental....oh yes and frugal!

    But.....also...a point to consider.... I have really reduced my consumption of them. This also reduces the retailers overhead and filling of the garbage dumps. Silly,silly me but I think this is important too.

    I have been "green" for 25 years... or more... I have all ways been called a freak for being frugal and mindful my imprint on the world around me. What I have done for all theese many years is now becoming the yuppy thing to do. When I hear the nay sayers argue against the common sense thing to do.... I ask my own questions. I do not wish to force my ways on any one I would just like to enter a point to be considered!

    I regularly reserch the people that write these kind of articles and it almost allways comes back to who is making the money! Conspiricy....well if that is what you want to call it that is ok by me....but please THINK FOR YOURSELVES!!!!

    SO WHAT IS IT???? Do they want to educate the public about reusable bags or do they want to discourage the use of reusables???? That is the question I am posing here!!!!! No conspiricy...just an inquirey!

    -- Posted by kaygee on Mon, Jul 19, 2010, at 12:16 AM
  • Chaco- please clear something up for me.Do eco-nuts stand in opposition to anti-eco-nuts?Which is to say folks for whom profit excuses any action detrimental to the land, air, and water of the only planet we have to live on. I'd say the opposite case is just as true that such anti-eco nuts are trying to force those of us who do care about such things to live their preferred wasteful manner they're just not as open about it.

    -- Posted by davis_x_machina on Mon, Jul 19, 2010, at 9:07 AM
  • Forgive me, but I find it funny and ironic that some posters on here claim to be "green" by using canvas bags to bring home their PLASTIC gallon milk containers home.

    I would bet that one or two empty plastic gallon jugs are more harmful to the environment than your yearly supply (120 was it?) of plastic bags. Not to mention what other products you might buy that are in plastic containers.

    Not trying to start anything here kaygee, just found your "plastic bag company" conspiracy theory post quite funny.

    I wonder if the milk jug company is in bed with the plastic bag company? Al Gore and Michael Moore should investigate this possible conspiracy immediately.

    -- Posted by Husker23 on Mon, Jul 19, 2010, at 11:46 AM
  • Davis no one is forcing you to use anything you do not want to. Give me some examples if you believe they are.

    I seem to remember a story about the eco nazis wanting to controll thermostats remotely from outside peoples homes. This is the type of thing I refer to.

    -- Posted by Chaco1 on Mon, Jul 19, 2010, at 5:28 PM
  • Husker 23,

    I am so glad I was able to amuse you!!! I never really understood Al Gore or Michael Moore. They strike me as being drama queens that are trying to make a quick buck.

    Please understand that I am a recycling nut that reuses and recycles EVERY THING I get my hands on. Milk jugs are easily recyclable. Plastic bags are not. Here in Hastings there are only two stores that will take the bags for recycling and walmart will only take there own bags. If there was a viable alternative to plastic milk jugs I would have found it long ago. I have a habit of not buying products and the packaging they come in that are not recycleable. But I am also aware that I live in this modern society and some things cannot be avoided. I just consider the concequenses of my decisions and make choices that my conscience can live with.

    I was "green" long before it became the yuppie thing to do but back then you were considered cheap or a kinder word...frugal. I prefer to think of myself as conscentious. OK I will admit to being a little nutty too:^)!!!!!


    I heard about the themostat thing too and found it to be amusing. It isnt something that could be implamented so it wont ever happen. That is the problem with some of the nuttier ideas.... and the nuts give the rest of us a bad image. I have run into several eoc-nazi types and I have known several mindless wasteful people in my day....it takes both kinds of nuts to make a place for thoes of us that are in the middle. All it takes is comon sense and respect for the world around us to make a differance. Although I am beginning to think the nuts out number us!

    And finally Davis

    It should never be about us against them...we need to work together and make changes in our own individual way. We all have a unique ability to see things differently. Learning to share our ideas, work together and respect each other is something that is difficult for some people to do. All we can do is keep trying.



    -- Posted by kaygee on Tue, Jul 20, 2010, at 1:23 PM
  • OK, I don't use reusable bags (yet--am in Calif), but it gave me great pause several years ago to read there were barges filled with used water bottles that equalled the size of Texas floating around the Pacific--you think it's time for us to rethink how we treat our environment with the waste we create?

    Convienence versus sustainable living, it is an issue worthy of all our thought and action, is it not?

    -- Posted by ontheleftcoast on Wed, Jul 21, 2010, at 12:29 PM
  • se this is the exact point. It was the enviro wackos who convinced people to not drink tap water in the first place. Now they are screeching because of all the water bottles. The world of unintended consequenses. SO are the reusable bags made in the US or in slave labor camps in China?

    -- Posted by Chaco1 on Fri, Jul 23, 2010, at 8:16 AM
  • Chaco 1

    Yes my friend.... think for your self...educate yourself....make the decisions that enable you to make a differance that matters the most. Dont let others decide what is right for you!!!! Choose what is right for your self!!!!Think for your self and our GREAT SPIRIT will guide you.



    -- Posted by kaygee on Sun, Jul 25, 2010, at 9:30 PM
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