The Reusable Bag Urban Myth

The Reusable Bag Urban Myth

This is a Guest Post from Doug Lober at If you would like to Guest Write for PBBR, check out the guidelines here.

When state legislatures began considering plastic bag bans in supermarkets, in order to slow the annual flow of billions of bags into landfills and waterways, streets and gutters, the “plastic lobby” was pretty successful in fending off bans and statewide incentives to encourage reusable bags. Lobbyists being lobbyists, they employed one of the standard ploys in maintaining a position, which is using offense as the best defense.

Most plastic products are oil derivatives, so the trade organization for large plastic manufacturers and in one instance, an oil company, sponsored “impartial studies” that produced evidence of lead in the paint used to decorate some reusable bags. Further, a study out of Arizona sponsored by an oil lobby group and produced evidence that reusable bags can accumulate bacteria when repeatedly being used without washing.

That particular finding represents an uncanny grasp of the obvious; most homeowners have found the same to be true for unwashed dishes, which are also used to carry food. And consider this: ever think about the bacteria in your car upholstery, dangerously close to any kind of grocery bag on most shopping trips? When was the last time you ran the trunk of your car through the washer?

Anyway, the point of this polemic is that the supposed dangers of bacteria ridden reusable bags override the need to get rid of throwaway plastic and paper bags at the checkout stand. It’s become an article of faith among people who for one reason or another find it necessary to oppose limitations on what everyone agrees is a primary source of non-biodegradable litter: the plastic bag.

A vote by the Kauai County Council recently illustrates the ongoing impact of this partisan mischief-making. A resolution was introduced by Councilman Mel Rapozo to amend the Island’s ban on plastic bags in order to allow ready-to-eat food establishments to provide biodegradable plastic bags to customers. Rapozo introduced the amendment after hearing complaints that food served by take-out restaurants could become contaminated by bacteria in customers' reusable bags.

Where did those complaints come from? The same studies that have circulated from state to state, municipality to municipality, decrying the environmental threat of reusable bags. It’s gotten to the point that opponents of plastic bans don’t bother to cite sources; they have just “heard complaints.” That wasn’t enough for the Kauai County Council, which voted down the rollback on plastic bans 5-1. The study from the University of Arizona was introduced as evidence, and dismissed as an unreliable piece of research because the professors who conducted it were paid by oil interests.

It’s been a great whisper campaign, as has the lead issue – which most reusable bag manufacturers corrected long ago. But it doesn’t seem to work so well at the local level, where city and county officials are paying the tab for picking up all of those bags clogging sewers, streams, and blowing through parks and across beaches.


2 Responses to "The Reusable Bag Urban Myth"

  1. Frank   2012/03/19 at 12:33 pm

    I recently moved to the Phoenix area from Seattle, WA. One thing that is degrading the beauty of this valley is the large number of plastic bags seen everywhere! They are stuck in fences, cactus, trees, brush and drifting freely in the wind:( Seems to me like the only cure would be a total ban.

  2. Ducky   2011/06/15 at 1:25 pm

    You have shed a ray of sunshine into the forum. Tkhnas!

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