Only in Canada, Eh? A New Twist in Plastic Versus Cloth Bags

by: EJ on 05/25/2009
Posted in: Sustainable Living

A recent study by the Canadian Environment and Plastics Industry Council entitled A Microbiological Study of Reusable Bags and `First or single-use' Plastic Bags has discovered 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. Over 30% of the bags had unsafe levels of bacterial contamination, 40% had yeast or mold."

So what is the moral of the story? Well, for starters, although the study was scientifically sound, I believe the motivation behind it needs to be questioned. The Environment and Plastics Industry Council says they were concerned about the possible impact on public health from the use of reusable bags and so commissioned the study. However, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association is also, "responsible for fostering the growth and prosperity of the Canadian plastics industry." I feel I must agree with Heather Marshall, of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, who called the study a "final desperate attempt to scare people from reusable bags."

This is something that has been bothering me for awhile. We are so frightened of germs and bacteria. Antibacterial soaps abound, chlorinated cleansers are sold on the basis of their being able to kill bacteria "where they grow". But germs and bacteria are the very things our bodies actually have a system for dealing with. We can battle germs and bacteria, we can boost our immune systems, we can build our antibodies. What about the toxic chemicals that invade our endocrine systems, persistent organic pollutants (POP) that work their way up the food chain, bioaccumulate in our tissues, get transferred to our children through our breast milk and go on to cause cancer, reproductive difficulties and a host of as of yet, unproven aliments. Plastic polymers are sponges and couriers for POPs, which include known carcinogens such as DDT, PCBs and other pollutants and toxins. These toxins latch on to plastic polymers that are commonly used in consumer products and that are photodegrading in our environment.

Thank you to the Canadian Plastics Industry Association for educating me about the need to wash my cloth bags. (I must admit, I had already thought of this on my own, but now I am more motivated). However, given the choice between boils or an ear infection and persistent organic pollutants entering our ecosystems, I'll take the boils.

To find out more about the ways in which plastics are making us sick, check out New Society Publishers' books Naturally Clean: The Seventh Generation Guide to Safe and Healthy Non-Toxic Cleaning by Jeffery Hollender with Meika Hollender and Reed Doyle; and Cancer: 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic by Liz Armstrong, Guy Dauncey and Anne Wordsworth.

Naturally Clean: The Seventh Generation Guide to Safe and Healthy Non-Toxic Cleaning       Cancer

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