Reusable bags still best option

Kamloops – Stung by falling demand for its products, the much-maligned plastic bag industry launched an offensive of its own this week, suggesting reusable grocery bags — the kind you see in the arms of an increasing number of shoppers these days — carry the risk of contamination and possible food poisoning.

The Canadian Plastics Industry Association hired a pair of consultants to conduct what it called the first-ever North American study of reusable bags. It apparently found that more than 60 per cent of such bags examined were tainted by bacteria. And 40 per cent of the bags had yeast or mould present.

Not surprisingly, the consultants said their research showed the safest alternative were single-use bags — the kind more and more supermarkets are charging consumers for, and the kind that litter the landscape, pose a risk to wildlife and blemish the beauty of the countryside.

According to Cathy Cirko, vice-president of the Environment and Plastics Industry Council, an operating unit of the plastics association, the results of the study show that reusables are “a breeding ground for bacteria and pose public health risks — food poisoning, skin infections such as bacterial boils, allergic reactions, triggering of asthma attacks and ear infections.”Fair enough, but let’s use a little common sense here. The idea of reusable shopping bags  is that we reduce the number of plastic ones going into landfills or blowing around streets, parks and natural areas.  More than a billion single-use plastic bags are given away every day — posing a threat to the environment and various wildlife habitats.

There’s no question the world needs to reduce the use of plastic bags, even if they can’t be eliminated all together. Reusable bags are part of the solution and it makes little sense for consumers to be scared off using them because they can carry and transmit germs.

The solution is as simple as a washing machine or bottle of disinfectant.

It should come as no surprise that carrying your laundry or children’s diapers in the same bag as you carry your groceries puts you at risk of contamination. The answer is obvious — don’t do it.

Cloth bags can and should be laundered occasionally. Vinyl bags should be wiped out with a bacteria-fighting cleaner.

When you’re carrying meat, put individual items inside the small bags that are found everywhere in the grocery store to prevent accidental spills. Treat the bags as you would a kitchen cutting board — keep them clean and bacteria-free.

The rewards of reusable bags are obvious. The risks of single-use plastic are just as obvious — take a look around your neighbourhood and watch them blowing in the wind.

Being environmentally conscious isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s the best solution for our planet in the long run. It might take a little extra work, but the reusable-bag option remains the only one that makes sense.