Safer choices in reusable bags

December 03, 2010

Safer choices in reusable bags

If Superman couldn’t see through a reusable grocery bag, that would serve as an instant clue to the presence of lead.

If Superman couldn’t see through a reusable grocery bag, that would serve as an instant clue to the presence of lead. But Superman isn’t real; only our own testing and safety measures can protect us.

The Lempert Report wonders what took the trade so long to suspect there might be problems with such innocent-looking, supposedly environment-saving items? Was our sentiment misplaced because stores thought they could help shoppers go green in a good way, and derive some branding benefit as well? Could the distraction of bacterial concerns if people didn’t clean the bags play a role? Perhaps our collective guard was down about the pre-formed bags with flat bottoms that many retailers were importing largely from China, a nation with a safety record that should inspire doubt.

When Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) called in November for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate and regulate reusable bags, it was in response to Wegmans’ replacement of bags that were tested and found to exceed federal standards for lead content in paint of 90 parts per million, according to a Newsday account. 

The King Kullen chain and the sister divisions of A&P, Waldbaum’s and Pathmark all pulled their bags from stores for testing. ShopRite and Stop& Shop both told Newsday they had pre-tested their bags before distributing them. And just before Thanksgiving, CVS recalled its reusable bags after finding excessive lead in them, the Providence Business News reported.

The Lempert Report urges all retailers to test their reusable bags before any serious health problems arise, perhaps from the potential leakage of older, worn bags. They should replace bags that exceed the federal standard, rather than wait for any FDA pronouncements. They might be best switching to cotton, hemp or other proven safe materials, and messaging to consumers about the switch. Looking ahead, more care by the trade could help ensure it doesn’t swap one problem (risk of metal contaminants) for another (the environmental impact of disposable bags), regardless of the apparently safe marketing opportunities that arise from such moves.