About Shopping Bags

Does anybody remember when grocery store baggers used to ask if you wanted "paper or plastic?"  I recently needed some old-fashioned grocery store bags for a children's craft project, and realized at the last minute that I no longer had a stash of them in my pantry.  I think it's been about ten years since I've regularly had paper bags to reuse at home.  Thankfully, a community grocery store had some available to share for this project.  The kids were all able to make their lovely paper bag costumes.

We can now not only reuse paper or plastic creatively, but we can recycle either one in many municipal recycling programs.  Of course, environmentalists are teaching us that paper and plastic are both choices that can harm our environment, and that reusable cloth bags are a smarter choice.  Because reusable bags have become trendy, I've amassed a collection of them with various company logos, all given to me in some sort of promotion.  Being the thrifty mama that I am, I refuse to pay more to use any store's cloth bags, although I will use them if they're free.  I must also admit that I'm often the one who forgets her cloth bags left hanging next to the back door at home.  I'm still trying to get into the habit.

Which brings me to the topic I wanted to share today.  This relatively new (at least for some of us) socially conscious habit of using reusable grocery bags comes with a new measure of personal responsibility.  I am ashamed to admit that I've never made a regular routine of washing out those cloth bags.  I've sometimes carried one to the grocery store, before toting books back to the library in the same bag the next day.  I seem be making the same mistakes as a large percentage of people who were interviewed for a University of Arizona study about the cleanliness of reusable shopping bags.  Professor Charles Gerba and his team of bacteria experts carried out the study that was funded by the American Chemistry Council.  Yes, that's a group behind plastic bag manufacturing.  But if we can set the politics aside, this study still provides useful information.  The scientists tested 84 reusable consumers' bags in California and Arizona, finding coliform bacteria (including E. coli) in half of them.  An additional part of the study involved placing some nasty bacteria on bags and letting it grow in the trunks of hot cars for a couple of hours.  One variable here seems to be the extent to which foods are already packaged before being placed in our cloth bags.  The researchers concluded that consumers rarely, if ever, wash their reusable bags; but they should start washing them regularly in order to reduce the risk of spreading food-borne bacteria.

So my to-do list this week includes:  use cloth shopping bags, launder cloth shopping bags, clean and reorganize entire mudroom where I store cloth shopping bags...

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