As you know by now, in addition to being passionate about organic cotton, I also can get pretty worked up about plastic grocery bags and plastic water bottles. I just KNOW they will one day be the icons of our short-sighted insanity.
So, last week when the news came on the radio: Reusable Grocery Bags Contaminated with bacteria, my first thought was "I bet that study was funded by the plastic industry." So, I did a little digging... and sure enough... the study was brought to us by the American Chemistry Council. Just who and what is the American Chemistry Council? Well... in addition to their own home page, they are the ones behind the oh-so-lovely Plastics Make it Possible web site and also this gem: Stop the Bag Tax. sigh.
I decided to read the entire report. I like to know what the "science" is behind the "news". The timing of this release coupled with the impending vote on California AB 1998 is just too suspect to ignore.
What I learned:
They say that 80 of the 84 bags collected were woven polypropylene, but that seems highly unlikely. Most of those 99 cent at-the-counter "re-usable" bags are actually made of NON-woven polypropylene. I have emailed the authors to clarify. (I will report back what I hear...assuming I get a response. In the meantime, I am going to assume they meant non-woven polypropylene bags. To get such a fundamental piece of the study wrong was my first red flag.)
Don't get my husband started on how much he HATES this "eco" alternative (maybe I can get him to do a guest post for me on the topic). My problem is that non-woven polypropylene is still made from plastic.
People know cloth is washable. Is non-woven polypropylene washable? It doesn't feel like fabric and I completely agree with the study that BIG washing instructions should go in each of these sorts of bags. Non-woven polypropylene, although not single-use, still is made with fossil fuels and they don't last all that long. My friend Jane regularly washes hers and she found they last less than 6 months. Improvement, I guess... but my washed fabric bags have lasted YEARS and show no sign of needing replacement. Now THAT is a solution!
What the press left out was that "Attempts to isolate Salmonella and Listeria bacteria from the bags were not successful in this study, but this may only represent the limited number of samples that were collected."
Get this, the study actually tainted non-woven polypropylene bags with meat juice and put them in a trunk in the mid afternoon for 2 hours to see if bacteria grew. BIG surprise...HELLO! It did! My take away - don't eat meat.... and if you do, don't be stupid about it. Would you leave meat in your trunk for 2 hours? If meat juice spills, clean it up!
The other tidbit left out of the "news" story was that the report showed that "Hand or machine washing was found to reduce the bacteria in bags by >99.9%." Funny that the "news" was about fear and contamination rather than oh say, "Washing your reusable bags can keep you and your planet healthy" - oh, you're right, that probably won't sell as many papers. Fear sure is sexy. I have to admit that I resent the fact that this important statistic from the report which is featured both in the summary and the conclusion of the full report was missing entirely from the University of Arizona's own press release. Hummm... I am not someone who leans towards conspiracy theories but really?!