Health

Recyclable plastic bags don’t pose the potential health risks associated with alternative types of bags.

Hundreds of millions of reusable bags are imported from China1 and other countries each year. While many reusable bags are safe, many have also been found to contain dangerous levels of lead.2 And even reusable bags without lead could pose a risk to you and your family if not sanitized properly after each use. Microbiologists have found harmful bacteria in reusable bags such as E. coli, salmonella and fecal coliform, which can cause foodborne illness.

Reusable bags harbor bacteria

  • A study by the University of Arizona found that 50% of all reusable bags contained food-borne bacteria, like salmonella. 12% contained E. coli, indicating the presence of fecal matter and other pathogens3
  • Harmful bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and fecal coliform thrive in reusable bags unless they are cleaned properly after each use with soapy water that is at least 140-degrees4
  • A Canadian study found bacteria build-up on reusable bags was 300% higher than what is considered safe5
  • Storing these bags in a hot trunk -- which many people do so they don’t forget them at home -- causes the bacteria to grow 10 times faster6

Reusable bags have been found to contain toxic lead

  • The lead, usually found on the inside of reusable bags, can rub off onto food, permitting families to ingest the harmful substance7
  • Lead can cause irreversible damage to the nervous systems and major organs. It inhibits the body’s ability to regulate vitamin D, form red blood cells properly, and can cause seizures, coma and death. Children can suffer from developmental delay, lower IQ, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, impaired hearing and stunted growth8

Download our fact sheet about how plastic bag bans and taxes ignore the health risks of bag alternatives.

  1. Tariff and trade data from U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. International Trade Commission.
  2. Reusable grocery bags, made in China, found to contain lead, fueling calls for FDA investigation;” Lore Croghan; New York Daily News; November 15, 2010
  3. Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags;” Charles Gerba; University of Arizona; June 9, 2010
  4. A Microbiological Study of Reusable Bags and 'First or single-use' Plastic Bags; Environment and Plastics Industry Council; May 20, 2009.
  5. A Microbiological Study of Reusable Bags and 'First or single-use' Plastic Bags; Environment and Plastics Industry Council; May 20, 2009.
  6. Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags;” Charles Gerba; University of Arizona; June 9, 2010
  7. Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags; University of Arizona School of Public Health; June 9, 2010.
  8. "Health Effects of Lead Exposure;" Oregon Department of Human Services

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Learn the Facts

  • Plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable. More than 900 million pounds of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were recycled in 2010. More »
  • Plastic bags provide a cleaner, safer option at the grocery store. Many reusable bags contain high levels of lead; microbiologists have found harmful bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and fecal coliform in reusable bags. More »
  • Plastic bags are chosen by more than 90 percent of consumers at the checkout. About 9 out of every 10 consumers reuse these bags for everyday household purposes. More »