Reusable Bags: Eco-friendly or Eco-hostile?

Today’s food for thought: According to The New York Times, those planet-saving reusable bags may be adding an unwanted flavour to your food: Lead.  According to the article, lead particles are most likely to be in reusable bags made in China. The risk, while present, is minimal: over time, the most likely outcome is that during the decomposition process the lead could potentially leak in to groundwater or, as the bag becomes worn, even flake off in to your food. Yum.

According to The Daily Green, the offending bags are most likely those made of polypropylene – which is the main component of most reusable bags out there.  (Think bags you see at most retailers that look like cloth, but are really made of plastic made to look like woven cloth). Heavy, robust bags made from cotton (often organic) are available, but tend to be more expensive and do have their own environmental cost.

This isn’t the first bad news for reusable bags. Last year, research conducted by the plastics industry indicated that reusable bags are breeding grounds for bacteria and mold, releasing the results far and wide in a desperate bid to turn people back to single-use plastic. However, the stigma didn’t stick, and reusable bags continue to gain popularity as consumers’ green consciences kick in – as well as realizing the clear practical advantages to reusable bags, such as the ability to carry more and heavier amounts within the bags, as well as their undeniable fashion cred.

Ultimately, should the news of lead or bacteria concern you? Not really. If you’re worried, there are two easy steps you can take to protect yourself: One is to wash any unpackaged food thoroughly before consumption (which you should do anyway to wash off any pesticide residue that may be present on the food), as well as wash your reusable bags occasionally. The second is to toss your polypropylene bags into the recycle bin and source and use more eco-friendly bags, such as those made from organic cottons or better yet, recycled or upcycled material.  They’ll last longer, be more robust, and probably look far more chic.

Shannon is an Ottawa blogger who writes at and saves the world at

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amanda gill
Amanda Gill4 years ago

What I do object to is buying one of those `bags for life` from the supermarket. Why should I pay them to lug my shopping around in what`s essentially an advertisement for them?

Bang J.
Bang J.7 years ago

yeah, I have read relevent news that eco friendly bags used to pack foods can contaminate the food due to the print on it.

Nyna D.
Nyna D7 years ago

reusable cloth bags have always seemed to me to be the best and safest alternative... sturdy, washable, biodegradable cotton canvas.
no offense to anyone, but i never really understood the fashion fascination of reusable-but-still-plastic bags, although they are pretty :)

Sarah D.
Sarah D7 years ago

My parents and I take our own shopping bags with us when we shop, same with my girlfriend and her family. She treats them like a collection of designer handbags because they come in so many different designs.

minkie a.
minkie amoroso7 years ago

We only use re-usable bags in our house. BUT we wash are bags regularly and we NEVER put leaking meat or produce in the bags that are the re-usables from the store, we use regular COTTEN bags for produce. And for meats, we re-use plastic bags that we have washed out.

Bethany M.
Bethany M7 years ago

We use reusable bags almost everytime we shop. (We sometimes forget them at home. No one is perfect.) I And while they may have possibly harmful toxicity, they are way better than plastic. People should just be careful about which ones they buy and about washing whatever food they put in them. (Besides, food that could come into contact with the bag should be washed anyway).

Jen H.
Jen H7 years ago

Where I work we just got the kind that roll up and button so people can carry them with them at all times without it being in the way. No more, "Oops I forgot my reusable bags in my car/house".

Marcy S.
Marcia Singer7 years ago

I keep a supply of the reusable bags in my car so i always have one handy when i'm out. If they have potentially toxic attributes, that's a bummer, but i'm not going to get rid of them. Germs and toxins are everywhere. I think you have to pick your fights and do the best you can in whatever way makes sense to you.

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman7 years ago


Nuraini A.
Nuraini A7 years ago

i can't recall the cumulative effect of lead, but lead exposure via dermal contact is not that bad. the level you'd need for it to even be remotely harmful is pretty high (if inhaled, different story, that's why petrol is unleaded these days). as for bacteria, for pete's sake dump the things in the washer every now and then. and anyway my computer keyboard i'm using right now probably has worse.