NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Which Type of Grocery Bag Is Best?

March 31, 2011

Two recent studies might end the great grocery bag debate.  The debates over which type of grocery bag is best break down into two issues: which are better for the environment and which are better for your health, says Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. 

The first study, in June 2010, looked at the question of cloth bag contamination.

  • Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags.
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli) were identified in 12 percent of the bags.
  • When meat juices were added to bags and stored in the trunks of cars for two hours, the number of bacteria increased 10-fold indicating the potential for bacterial growth in the bags.

The second study is by the Environment Agency of England that performed "cradle to grave" lifecycle assessment of seven different types of bag:  The conventional high-density polyethylene bag had the lowest environmental impacts of the lightweight bags in eight out of nine impact categories. 

So the verdict seems clear: the traditional, thin plastic bag, though increasingly demonized and taxed, has better environmental performance and is likely to be considerably safer for human health, says Green.

Source: Kenneth P. Green, "A Punching Bag No More," The American, March 26, 2011.

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