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Reusable bags get bum rap
Health: Study suggests E. coli present in cloth


If you’re helping save the planet by taking reusable cloth bags to the store, a U.S. professor wants to rain on your parade. Jonathan Klick, who has a PhD in economics, says using disposable plastic bags isn’t only more cost-effective, but healthier for you and your family.

The University of Pennsylvania law professor studied the effects on San Francisco’s banning of plastic bags in 2007 – and found emergency admittals and fatalities because of food-borne illnesses such as E. coli had almost doubled.

“Food safety research has shown a large percentage of reusable bags actually contain harmful bacteria,” Klick said.

Well, duh. If you’re going to put raw, unwrapped meat into a reusable cloth bag and then not wash it, maybe you should nominate yourself for a Darwin Award (handed out, posthumously, to those who strengthen the gene pool by removing their DNA from it).

“… A little bit of common sense is required,” said Karen Bartlett, who teaches in the faculty of medicine’s school of population and public health at the University of B.C. “It’s like using your cutting board at home (to cut chicken) and then not rinsing it. You have to think about washing your grocery bag.”

The U.S. study made some other claims.

For one, Klick and his co-author argue that because more energy goes into making a cloth bag it would need to be used up to 170 times to yield the most environmental benefit. But if you wash your bag after every shopping outing, Klick said, “there’s no way it’s going to last even 120 uses.”

Some estimates place the number of plastic bags discarded around the world at a halftrillion annually. Hundreds of thousands of marine birds, mammals, fish and turtles drown because of plastic every year.

“The number of species affected by plastic floating around in the oceans is astronomical,” said Bartlett, a self-described avid bag reuser. “Just wash your grocery bag now and then.”

Klick, however, pointed to one U.S. study in which shoppers were interviewed and researchers found eight per cent of them had E. coli in their bags. More to the point, 97 per cent of those interviewed claimed they had never washed their bags once.

“Look, most butchers and grocery stores offer to wrap your meat for you,” Bartlett said. “When they offer that, say yes.”