Health Concerns About Reusable Bags – Fact or Fiction
As consumers we’ve been eco-arm-twisted into using reusable bags. So now what is this about health risks? And how can we make heads or tails of all the conflicting info in the Reusable vs. Plastic vs. Cotton Bag Controversy?
A study by the University of Arizona concluded, “Reusable bags, if not properly washed between uses, create the potential for cross contamination of foods. This potential exists when raw meat products and foods traditionally eaten uncooked (fruits and vegetables) are carried in the same bags, either together or between uses.”
However, the food-safety experts at Consumer Reports were underwhelmed with the study by the University of Arizona. “A person eating an average bag of salad greens gets more exposure to these bacteria than if they had licked the insides of the dirtiest bag from this study,” says Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumers Union. “These bacteria can be found lots of places, so no need to go overboard.”
Hansen stated, “It’s easy to spread bacteria in your kitchen or in your grocery bags. So we do think it’s wise to carry those items in disposable bags. Reusable bags are fine for most everything else, but it’s a good idea to wash them occasionally.”
Trial by Washing Machine
Since we are truth seekers at Nashville Wraps, I decided to do a little experiment, even at the expense of exposing our own product’s limitations. I tried washing various reusable bags to see how they held up. Since I am a busy mother of three, I threw them all in the washing machine.
Some companies like Envirosax recommend hand washing reusable bags to decrease one’s ecological footprint, but hand washing went off my “to do” list when I stopped wearing nylons. And that is what these particular bags are made of – nylon or polyester, yet another plastic – but this type is difficult to recycle. And they’re made in China, so shipping them here increases their carbon footprint.
So into the washer went our non-woven polypropylene bags and our reusable cotton canvas bags. After the normal cycle was complete, I tossed them in the dryer. What came out was what you might expect.
How the Bags Held Up
The non-woven bags (in the photo at the top) looked good as new. When the cotton bags came out they (at left) looked horrible. The Cotton Canvas Bags shrunk 1″ all the way around, but that’s what cotton does, right? So, if you choose the cotton canvas bags for groceries, just know they will need to be washed and they will shrink.
But before you get too excited about the popular non-woven bags, realize they are plastic. They do wash well, but over time I’ve been told the threads used to sew them will deteriorate and eventually fail. Also, they will take hundreds of years to break down. Not really a good choice either.
The Advantages of Plastic Bags
A study by the Canadian Plastics Industry Association titled, “A Microbiological Study of Reusable Bags” showed single-use bags and first-use reusables to be the most sanitary and safest options with no evidence of bacterial or other contaminants.”
Consumer Reports claims this study was driven by the plastics industry who funded the testing because they want you to buy their plastic bags. But the truth is that more than half of all the reusable bags on the market are made from plastic anyway – and most of them are not recyclable.
A Solution That’s Practical, Safe, AND Eco-Friendly
So what is a person who is health conscious, eco-conscious and busy (like me) to do? I don’t want to take 10-20 of these bags with me on my shopping trips, and then launder them inside out each time. So I am here to make it easier on all of us.
Let’s just forget about these reusable bags (at least for groceries), and use the simple plastic bags you find every day at Wal-Mart, Publix, or Kroger – bags like our Encore® T-Sacks. Then, remember to recycle them! It’s that simple. No worries about remembering to take your bags, about washing, shrinkage, or bacteria. Goodness knows we have plenty of more important things to worry about. Like, what’s for dinner?
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