As we continue the conversation around HoCo 4-19: Howard County – Authority to Impose Fees for Use of Disposable Bags (as I am calling the Howard County Bag Tax Bill)…Delegate Frank Turner asked the following question during the public meeting on the 26th “Has any research been done on the safety and health of bags you use on a continuing basis?” The quick answer is yes, there is research…here is data from a University of Arizona study conducted in 2010:

Reusable Grocery Bags Contaminated With E. Coli, Other Bacteria

These bags may be friendly to the environment, but not necessarily to you, according to a new report by researchers at two universities.

Reusable grocery bags can be a breeding ground for dangerous food-borne bacteria and pose a serious risk to public health, according to a joint food-safety research report issued today by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University in California.

The research study – which randomly tested reusable grocery bags carried by shoppers in Tucson, Los Angeles and San Francisco – also found consumers were almost completely unaware of the need to regularly wash their bags.


“Our findings suggest a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half of the bags sampled,” said Charles Gerba, a UA professor of soil, water and environmental science and co-author of the study. “Furthermore, consumers are alarmingly unaware of these risks and the critical need to sanitize their bags on a weekly basis.”

Bacteria levels found in reusable bags were significant enough to cause a wide range of serious health problems and even death. They are a particular danger for young children, who are especially vulnerable to food-borne illnesses, Gerba said.

The study also found that awareness of potential risks was very low. A full 97 percent of those interviewed never washed or bleached their reusable bags, said Gerba, adding that thorough washing kills nearly all bacteria that accumulate in reusable bags.

Read the full study here:

I know…an 8 year old study is old data…so I researched additional articles from reputable sources…here are some article I found on this topic:

2010: Chicago Tribune:

2012: NBC News:

2014: USA Today:

I am publishing this as an answer the question asked by Delegate Turner at the meeting on the 26th (at the 2 hour, 45 minute, 45 second mark of the video…see below).

I wonder how many shoppers that use reusable bags for grocery shopping will use those same bags for shopping at Walmart, Target and the mall (or other stores) to avoid the “fee / tax”? Will that potentially cause cross contamination issues for consumers?

I still support banning the bag and placing the burden on the businesses to provide another option other than plastic bags at point of sale. I believe that is the best option for our county and will make the greatest impact on removing plastic bags from our community.

More articles planned on this topic. I am still viewing the testimony given on the 26th…so stay tuned.

Scott E


  1. Dear ScottE,
    This is a common tack that the plastic industry uses. As noted in the article, the study was funded by the plastic industry. They are using the same playbook as the tobacco industry. Fear. As a nurse, I am aware that bacteria is everywhere. Here are some things that are dirtier than you toliet: cutting board, cell phone, pocketbook, computer keyboard, faucet handles. I could go on, but you get the message. What do you do? You clean them. The plastic industry want to keep diverting from the real issue: the plastic pollution crisis. Every minute of every day a garbage truck full of plastic enters our waterways. If we do not change our ways, it will be two garbage trucks every minute of every day by 2030, and four garbage truck every minute of every day by 2050. My gosh, isn’t that worth cleaning your bags once in a while?
    Please do not fall for the plastic industry’s lies. Less Plastic Please wants to educate people with the facts. We would be more than happy to give a presentation or answer questions with the facts. Honestly, when you start learning about plastic pollution, we are in a terrible place. I would like to fight this together. You have a very captive audience, and giving falsehoods or half truths, just causes confusion.

    Pat Hersey
    Less Plastic Please

    • Pat,

      I hope you read everything shared (all articles) and understand I am not trying to provide “falsehoods or half truths” but trying to provide data from reputable news sources. If you look at what I share…it is not from Bob’s blog or some other unknown source…but from reputable news sources. This article was about answering the question a current Delegate asked to a senior member of the HoCo Sierra Club that was not answered during the meeting. I have been very clear on my stance on this issue…all for a COMPLETE ban on plastics at POS in HoCo…but VERY opposed to a tax that does not work based on REAL data from DC and MoCo. Anytime you would like to sit down and discuss…let me know…happy to do so.

  2. Scott,
    The study gave half-truths. The study was funded by the American Chemistry Council. The American Chemistry Council, which, in reality is backed by the oil and petrochemical companies, such as Dow Chemical and Exxon Mobil, that make plastics and represents some disposable plastic bag makers.
    Not surprisingly, the report came out just as California was considering a state wide ban on plastic bags.
    The report says researchers found E. coli in seven of the bags tested. But the study did not identify the type of E. coli in the bags, a significant shortcoming. Most strains of E. coli are harmless, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
    San Francisco now has a ban on plastic bags. San Francisco’s bag ban hasn’t affected the rates of E. coli infection in town.
    The ACC is so sneaky. Yes, I would like to talk. Thank you.

Comments are closed.