Plastic Bags are the Healthier Option – for Families and the Environment

Recyclable plastic bags don’t pose the potential health risks associated with alternative bags. Hundreds of millions of petroleum based, polypropylene reusable bags are imported from China and other countries each year.1 These are, by far, the dominant type of reusable bags, and some have been found to contain dangerous levels of lead.

If reusable bags aren’t sanitized properly after each use, they can harbor dangerous viruses and bacteria. Microbiologists have found E. coli, salmonella, fecal coliform, and other harmful bacteria in reusable bags.

Reusable bags can harbor bacteria and viruses.

  • A study by the University of Arizona found that 51% of all reusable bags contained coliform bacteria, and 12% contained E. coli, indicating the presence of fecal matter and other pathogens. The same study found that 97% of individuals admitted that they never washed their reusable bags.
  • Harmful bacteria can thrive in reusable bags unless users clean them properly after each use with soapy water that is at least 140 degrees.
  • A Canadian study found bacteria build-up on reusable bags was 300% higher than what is considered safe.
  • Storing reusable bags in a hot trunk — which many people do — causes the bacteria to grow 10 times faster.
  • A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that COVID-19 can live up to three days on polypropylene, which is the material that most reusable bags are made of.
  • A 2018 study in the Journal of Environmental Health concluded that reusable bags are very effective in transmitting infectious viruses from private homes to supermarket grocery carts and checkout stands.
  • In 2013, millions of American piglets died amid an outbreak of novel swine enteric coronavirus disease, and after an investigation the U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded that reusable feed totes were the most likely root cause. The feed bags are often made of the same kind of material as reusable shopping bags (polypropylene).
  • In 2010, several Oregon teens and adults fell ill after attending a soccer tournament. Scientists traced the sickness to a reusable grocery bag, “which had been stored in a bathroom used before the outbreak by a person with a norovirus-like illness.”
  • California researchers studying the potential of reusable bags to transmit infectious diseases found that a contaminated reusable bag would cross-contaminate any surface it came into contact with, putting nine out of 10 people who go to that grocery store at risk of infection.

Some imported reusable bags have been found to contain toxic lead.

  • Lead can cause irreversible damage to the nervous systems and major organs. It inhibits the body’s ability to regulate vitamin D and form red blood cells properly, which can cause seizures, coma, and death. Children can suffer from developmental delay, lower IQ, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, impaired hearing, and stunted growth.


  1. U.S. International Trade Commission: “General First Unit of Quantity by HTS Number and by General First Unit of Quantity Annual” for Harmonized Tariff Schedule 4202923031.