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Even Reusable Bags Can Carry Environmental Risk

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/15/nyr...

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  1. Shoot, and I was just about to eat my reusable grocery bag for lunch. I guess I should throw out the one in which I've been stewing tomatoes for a month, too.

    30 Replies
    1. re: lavaca

      And stop giving it to your toddler to chew on. You know that's not right.

      1. re: lavaca

        The upside is your stash can now sail thru those x-ray machines at the airport.

        1. re: Rmis32

          SNORT! I am so glad I was not drinking anything when I read that!

          Note the bags that are culprits in this fiasco are coming in from China. When will we realize that having most of our stuff made in a country that doesn't even enforce the few safety standards it has for the health and safety of it's own people does not care in the slightest about the health and safety of foreigners?

          1. re: ZenSojourner

            I'm pretty sure the main reason bacteria builds up in any reusable bag, no matter where they're made, is due to the lack of washing and not due to country of origin.

            1. re: yfunk3

              Lead, my good person. Lead. Contamination. Not lack of hygiene.

                1. re: ChefJune

                  From the article:

                  "similar bags outside the city have been found to contain lead. "

                  Wasn't melamine the culprit in the poison dog food?

                  1. re: ZenSojourner

                    Yes, it was added to boost the protein levels of the dog food while being tested.

                2. re: ZenSojourner

                  I'm really not seeing how the article is stressing that lead is the bigger danger over bacteria. Also, the food would have to be in whatever weird lead-tainted bag (are there bags with lead paint on the INSIDE? I've never seen them, and I'm drowning in re-usable bags) for a fairly long period for it to reach dangerous levels.

                  As a Chinese-American, I'm not going to comment on the rest.

                  1. re: yfunk3

                    I don't think there's any science supporting the assertion that the paint would have to be on the inside to pose a threat.

                    1. re: tommy

                      I am surprised that lead paint is still made anywhere for any application. But it is not strontium 90, and won't make food that has been inside a bag for an hour glow in the dark. It is not a desirable circumstance, but the reflexive panic is exaggerated. I handled copious quantities of lead and mercury on a regular basis as a youthful science tinkerer, a million-fold to what we are talking about, and I am still ticking decades later.

                      1. re: Veggo

                        We were sent home with some mercury to play with when I was in grade 6, as a science project - observe and describe it, bla bla. Honestly. I remember it dissolved one of my rings. Asbestos was regularly passed around and marveled at (a major Canadian product at the time). Different times, different standards.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          I'm not entering into the debate on whether the paint is actually harmful, but pointing out that there's probably no science to support the theory that if it's on the outside, then it's safe.

                          1. re: tommy

                            gotcha, and I don't disagree.

                            1. re: tommy

                              Yeah, but it would be worse if it WAS on the inside. And as it is, it's not even that much to worry about unless you're sucking on the bags or something. Which no one should be doing anyway due to the bacteria that is far more harmful than any lead in any paint on any bag would ever be.

                              1. re: yfunk3

                                Plus doesn't lead have an antibacterial effect? A silver lining to every cloud.

                                1. re: yfunk3

                                  I suspect you don't have the scientific background to support this theory. But of course I could be wrong.

                                  1. re: tommy

                                    Okay, whatever. You win the argument. Happy?

                    2. re: ZenSojourner

                      The Chinese do not just send off products willynilly to the US or the west in general, US companies order them, and they should enforce safety standards on their suppliers as part of due diligence. If profit matters to the buyers more than safety, things like this happen.

                      1. re: buttertart

                        Added to which, the consumer shares the blame--when you want rock bottom prices, you could sacrifice quality. It's an extra step to make sure your bags are not from China, are produced in a responsible manner and it also costs more. Reusable bags, made in the USA, but they're not the 99 cent cheap ones:

                        http://www.reuseit.com/search?q=%22Ma...

                        1. re: chowser

                          I don't buy the "consumer shares the blame" argument. We have safety standards in this country. We have regulations that protect workers. What we do NOT have any longer is a strong manufacturing base. Tariffs have traditionally been used to protect US businesses from unfair competition from state-supported foreign manufacturers dumping their products here. It's the latter that we don't have anymore.

                          It's unfair to blame people in an economic downturn who have lost or are in fear of losing their jobs for buying what's cheapest.

                          I've tried for the past 8 years or so to avoid buying anything made in China. Try it yourself. It's the next thing to impossible, especially if you're poor. I even tried dropping WalMart and shopping more expensive stores. Everything I picked up was still made in China, Korea, or some other 3rd world nation.

                          1. re: ZenSojourner

                            I'm not sure that China counts as the third world any more. And note that we've got plenty of homegrown (literally!) food safety problems. Remember the recall of e. coli-tainted spinach earlier this very year? That was from a processing plant in the third world state of California.

                            1. re: small h

                              e coli in spinach is not the same as lead in toys, chemicals that turn into rohipnol used to coat toy beads, and melamine in dog food that poisons our pets. China is notorious for having factories that purposely adulterate food with everything from plaster to plastic to cut down on production costs and maximize profits. I had a friend from China who, when I asked, told me this was true, but shrugged her shoulders and said, "What do you do, just go hungry?" Because the problem is that endemic.

                              Despite it's large showcase cities, most of China is extremely poor. If it's not "3rd world" anymore, I don't know what it is, because it's pretty hard on the vast majority of people living there.

                              1. re: ZenSojourner

                                I'm certainly not absolving China of culpability, only asking you to realize that problems in the food supply are not limited to non-U.S. countries. Nor is the desire to maximize profits at the expense of safety. It's possible - desirable, even - to be cautious without being xenophobic.

                                1. re: small h

                                  LOL! Xenophobia is not something I've ever been accused of before!

                                  I'm sorry, but pointing out real and existing problems with shifting so much of our manufacturing to a country that by and large does not regulate or enforce the few regulations they have regarding health and safety is not xenophobia.

                                  1. re: ZenSojourner

                                    And you're still maintaining that the problem is located solely outside U.S. borders? If that's your position, there's obviously little I or anyone else can do to dissuade you. So carry on! Buy American!

                                    1. re: small h

                                      I maintain that we have better, though naturally not perfect, health and safety regulations in this country than in many others. Certainly better than what they have in China and generally do not enforce anyway.

                                      1. re: ZenSojourner

                                        <I maintain that we have better, though naturally not perfect, health and safety regulations in this country than in many others.>

                                        Agreed. And that's a nice, non-hyperbolic statement that most everyone can get behind.

                        2. re: buttertart

                          Manufacturers would love to shift liability to consumers, but I can't test for lead, carcinogens, etc. In my view, the company that makes stuff is responsible for making sure their stuff (whatever it is) is safe. And FWIW, I don't think the Chinese give a crap about the safety of what they produce, except if it becomes an embarrassment.

                          1. re: pikawicca

                            I didn't say it's the consumer's responsibility, I said it was the US companies who source from China which must be held responsible for monitoring the goods produced in their name and imported here. Not just say oh well, the Chinese standards are not as good as ours (not universally true, by the way, for example I have customers who import products which are produced under conditions easily equalling those in the USA, they monitor them very closely), but we get this stuff cheap to sell cheap, so whatever.
                            By the way the FDA monitors only things that come into contact directly with (food, drugs, cosmetics) or at one remove from the body (dishes, silverware, cosmetic packaging etc, so the bags would never have come under their purlieu, they are subject to Customs review only.
                            The importer's responsibility is to import goods shown not to be harmful to the US public after due diligence (testing, etc). This seems to have been lost sight of in the pursuit of profit in this case.

                  2. I am so happy that I am an eco-irresponsible person and still use the plastic bags from the grocery store. :)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ttoommyy

                      Whew--next time you eat your bags, you won't have to worry about the lead in them!

                    2. You guys have helped me figure out why my new chinese balloon is not going over.

                      1. use plain, organic canvas and wash them regularly. problem solved.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          Washing won't remove lead. How lead contamination gets into cloth bags I cannot imagine, yet there it is.

                          1. re: ZenSojourner

                            It seems to be the paint on the bags. Use plain organic cotton canvas.

                            1. re: Glencora

                              thanks, i actually meant to specify plain organic bags...fixed in my post.

                        2. I use a half dozen bags, but they are all canvas.

                          I wash them frequently, so they are wearing thin. I have noticed that the stores I got them from , (Whole Foods, HEB, Phoenicia Market), don't issue canvas anymore, just this recycled plastic stuff that is the focus of the OP article.

                          I have started supplementing my stash with souvenir bags from my increasingly infrequent travels.

                          I guess my point is to keep your eyes out for the canvas bags, they are easy to keep clean, and more durable than the recycled stuff.