Feb 11 - Sham Study Attacks Reusable Bags in San Francisco

In a new round of scare tactics, the industry has been circulating yet another bogus paper on reusable bag safety.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, an economic research paper from the Wharton School Institute for Law and Economics estimated a 46% increase in emergency room visits and food-related deaths in San Francisco...and is actually attempting to attribute that increase to the city's plastic bag ban!

By all appearances, the authors did NOT conduct any scientific studies to prove this point. Rather, they "crunched state and federal data on emergency room admissions and food-borne-illness deaths" and came to their own conclusions that reusable bags were the only culprit.

Using "back of envelope" calculations, the authors of the paper argued that the economic value of these human lives (an estimated 5.4 deaths each year) far outweigh the value of saving wildlife harmed by plastic bags.

But while scientists continue to find plastics in the stomach contents of dead animals and have concluded more than 267 species are affected by plastic pollution--there is little to back the paper's claims that reusable bags are a significant hazard to human health. Any risk is further reduced by the use of protective produce and meat bags--which by the way are still allowed under the San Francisco and other local ordinances.

The intent of the paper is to create panic and turn the public against reusable bags--which are the environmentally superior alternative to single-use bags. We've seen this strategy before:

  • In the Oregon case where several girls became gravely ill after sharing a contaminated bag--along with sharing the contaminated food containers and fruit that were all improperly stored in the vicinity of a sick person
  • In southern California media ads touting the amount of toxic materials in imported reusable bags, even though local ordinances throughout the state clearly require them to meet safely levels for toxicity, and
  • In an industry-funded study which reported that 12% of the 84 reusable bags sampled contained e.coli but failed to clarify whether or not the e.coli strains found were of the common variety or the rarer deadly ones.

The overall lesson is that, yes, if we touch a reusable or single-use bag (or tabletop or handle or any other inanimate object) that has been infected with a dangerous bacteria and don't wash our hands or food items properly, we can get sick.

But the next time the media starts quoting a new study on reusable bag hazards, we caution you to not jump to any conclusions. Instead, read the report if you can, ask questions if the facts don't add up, and consider who paid for the study.

Read the reaction from other environmental groups.

(photo credit: SF Chronicle)