A Survey on the Economic Effects of Los Angeles County’s Plastic Bag Ban

Policy Reports | Energy and Natural Resources

No. 340
Thursday, August 16, 2012
by Pamela Villarreal and Baruch Feigenbaum

Health Concerns Regarding Reusable Cloth Bags

There are also significant public health issues with reusable bags. Researchers from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University have found that the reuse of grocery bags can lead to cross-contamination and a proliferation of disease-carrying bacteria.25  To determine the safety of reusable cloth bags, researchers collected reusable bags at random from customers who entered grocery stores in Arizona and California. In interviews, they found that reusable bags are rarely washed and often used for multiple purposes. Researchers discovered large numbers of bacteria in nearly all of the bags and coliform bacteria in approximately half of the bags. E coli bacteria were identified in 12 percent of the examined bags.

This problem can be mitigated if reusable bags are washed regularly. Washing cloth bags can reduce bacteria by up to 99.9 percent. However, customers would have to wash the bags consistently; just one failed washing could lead to dangerous levels of bacteria. A total of 97 percent of all customers reported not cleaning their cloth bags on a regular basis.26  However, regular washing increases the environmental impact of reusable bags through increased water and energy use. Single use plastic bags to do not have these health issues.

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