The Downside of Reusable Grocery Bags

You know those reusable cloth bags that environmentally-conscious shoppers proudly tote to the grocery store? It turns out they may be making you sick. A journalist in Denver set about testing a variety of reusable cloth bags for bacteria, and the results aren’t pretty. Several of the bags had low to moderate levels of bacteria, while two bags had much higher levels. “Wow. Wow. That is pretty impressive,” said Dr. Michelle Baron, an infectious disease expert at the University of Colorado Hospital. “We’re talking in the million range of bacteria.” The solution? Wash the bags after each use. (HT: Stuart Roy) [%comments]

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  1. mohammad says:

    …or throw them away :-)

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  2. Andrew says:

    Does washing the bag use more resources than recycling a paper bag and getting a new one each time?

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    • ClintJCL says:

      I’d guess washing is still advantageous, because water is used in many things that are manufactured. But it’s a tough call. Someone should do some real research and get some real data on that.

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  3. Dirty secret let out of the bag. says:

    Washing them after each use implies a use of detergent, water, and energy that surely nullifies the benefit of one fewer plastic bag having been used.

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  4. Brett says:

    Wait, if you have to wash it after each use, plus the original manufacturing input is significantly higher… how close are we to the same environmental impact for reusable bags as recycled plastic bags? Also, when a plastic bag rips it just goes into the recycling bin, when the reusable bag rips it gets tossed in the garbage.

    The first argument I can imagine is that not everyone recycles their plastic bags, but the people who are of the conscience to use reusable bags will also be likely to recycle…

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  5. Randall Nortman says:

    So what if there are bacteria on the bags? There are bacteria everywhere, particularly the keyboard you’re typing on as you munch on your sandwich, the chair you’re sitting in, the door handle on the restaurant you’re going to eat dinner at, etc. The vast, vast majority of bacteria are utterly harmless, and some of them are probably beneficial. Our species evolved in a very dirty environment without soap or bleach. We can handle almost every type of bacteria, even infectious ones, in limited quantities (excepting people with compromised immune systems).

    So are those “millions” of bacteria harmful? Do they make it onto the food? What percentage of them survive the rinsing that you’re supposed to give produce anyway before eating? What percentage survive subsequent cooking? How many are left in the end? Is it enough to actually cause disease? Before anybody makes the claim that reusable grocery bags are making those silly greenies sick, let’s see some evidence that anybody is actually getting sick from them, hm?

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  6. kaydiv says:

    So, which is worse, using up plastic or using up water (and pumping some extra detergent into the ecosystem)?

    Either way, I’m definitely going to wash my cloth bags when I get home.

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  7. Barbara Wickwire says:

    Much though depends on whether or not meat was put into recyclable bags without first being placed inside plastic bags. That alone would account for a high bacteria count since those products often leak or get contaminated. Bags holding cans and vegetables etc. would not have a high count.

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  8. Kevin says:

    It seems likely the energy used to launder the bag would exceed the energy required to manufacture a plastic bag, not to mention the damage from the detergents.

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