Every once in a while, (okay often) the American Chemistry Council tries to convince consumers that reusable bags are indeed the devil in disguise. Just to clear things up, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents most of the major companies engaged in the business of chemistry, such as the Plastics Division, the Chlorine Chemistry Division, and the Chemical Products and Technology Division. I.e. a lot of companies who are making stuff that has the ability to trash the planet.
You gotta hand it to them, the ACC tries REALLY hard. They use phrases like, “Thinking Green? Pick Plastic!”
They remind consumers that plastic bags rule. How come? Because, “Nine out of every ten customers continue to prefer plastic bags over other options for their utility, resource efficiency, recyclability and reusability.” BUT in totally mixed up news from the ACC, they can’t decide if people are able to use plastic bags responsibly or not. Here’s a fact – most curbside programs will not accept plastic bags. You have to take your bags back to a major grocery chains that accepts plastic bags and plastic wrap for recycling. The ACC, who remember, claims that consumers love plastic bags for their, “recyclability and reusability” also states (pdf), “Research shows that consumer awareness remains low, and shoppers often forget to bring their bags back to the store.” Um?
The ACC notes that, “More than 90 percent of Americans reuse their plastic bags as trash can liners, lunch bags, and for pet waste pickup.”
The ACC tells you that, “An estimated 832,394,000 pounds of post-consumer film (including plastic bags and product wraps) were recovered in 2008, according to the latest National Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic Bags and Film Report (pdf). Keep in mind that research for this report was conducted by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. of Sonoma, CA for the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council. AND what the ACC doesn’t tell you is that while 832,394,000 sounds like a lot, the EPA notes that more than 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are used in the U.S. each year and only about 12% of bags and film were recycled in 2007. Way more plastic bags aren’t recycled than are.
Best of all, plastic bags protects you from… DEATH!
Sometimes the ACC goes too far. This year, for example, the ACC funded a study, Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags (pdf), that surprise – found that reusable bags have the potential to kill you. The report states, “A sudden or significant increase in use of reusable bags without a major public education campaign on how to reduce the risk of cross contamination would create the risk of significant adverse public health impacts.” Wow. Reusable bags are a public health issue now.
The study was a response to all the states who would like to see plastic bags banned entirely. Of course ACC is four square against this. So they’d like to remind you that bags kill. OMG.
It sounds all nice and terrifying until you hear that the researchers got most of their bags from folks who admitted, “Hey, I never wash my bags.” The ACC report also notes that the easy fix is, duh, washing your reusable bags.
However, because we’re at such a risk for sudden death via our reusable bags they further note, “Printed instructions on reusable bags that they be cleaned between uses or the need to separate raw foods from other food products, public service announcements, and health advisories are recommended.”
That’s a lot of flim-flam to keep people safe from reusable bags. Especially when you consider that the country is literally being killed by junk food or consider how many people can’t even figure out how to wash their hands correctly – most major studies on hand washing find that only 83% of folks wash up in public restrooms and that they do so for just 11 seconds on average. But sure, let’s all worry endlessly about reusable bags.
To avoid sudden death with two easy steps:
- Don’t use lame store brand reusable bags. I know, they’re just a buck or so, but honestly, they don’t last long, are hard to recycle when they die (which will be soon) and you can’t wash them. Buy quality reusable bags that can be tossed in the wash. I bought one $30 or so set of recycled cotton reusable bags over 2 years ago and they’re still going strong.
- Wash your bags. I wash mine once a week OR anytime I carry produce or meat in one.
That’s it. Two steps! Can two steps alone save you from the evil that is reusable bags? Yeah. And guess what, I didn’t even need to conduct a costly study to tell you so. Maybe I should be working for American Chemistry Council?
Honestly, plastic has it’s place. I’ll give the ACC that. I was very thankful for my son’s safe infant car seat, for example. I like the parts of my car that are comprised of plastic. I really adore bike helmets and the medical tools we need that are made with plastic. But plastic bags? No, I’m not on board and you shouldn’t be either.
Plastic, until we have better solutions for specific issues, is fine, even good. However, using reusable bags over plastic bags is one really awesome step you can take that helps keep landfills a little less full, cuts recycling costs and keeps the earth cleaner. In the case of bags, plastic is the enemy. Don’t fall for media hyped studies that make little sense.
More reusable bag tips coming soon!