The Emperor’s new bugs: the dirty secret of reusable supermarket bags

By Ian Wishart

Australia and New Zealand are trying to lead the world in banning so-called ‘single use’ plastic bags. The problem is, it’s a feelgood dumb idea.

In NZ the supermarket chains are offering reusable jute bags instead of plastic. But picture this scenario: I listened to a talk radio host and dog-owner explain how he keeps his re-usable bags on the back seat of the family car, presumably where his pooch has parked its butt more than once.

Now imagine the bacteria infesting those reusable bags, happily travelling into the supermarket on a weekly basis as he shops, touching down in the supermarket trolleys and more importantly the checkout counters where the bags sit amongst the food items. Imagine the bugs left behind to infect your own food as you wait next in line.

Then imagine that scene repeated across the country as dog-owners, parents, in fact anyone whose reusable bags have had the chance to breed bacteria in less than ideal conditions – bring the shopping equivalent of a portable toilet seat onto a food counter near you.

Because, seriously, who amongst us keeps our reusuable bags in a sterile environment? Picture a jute bag that’s carried a leaking pack of raw chicken home and nobody has noticed the smears of blood that soaked into the bottom of the bag. The Chicago Tribune reports 97% of eco-bag users are dirty.

You can see where this is heading, right? Salmonellageddon!

The reason the world moved to plastic in supermarkets was for both hygiene and convenience – the bags were deliberately single-use because they had transported food and posed a health hazard. That’s why the majority of shoppers use them as bin-liners (thus making them dual-use with a finite lifespan).

“But wait!”, I hear the cynics muttering, “no one is entering supermarkets in a sterile condition even now, so the problem is exaggerated”. That’s true, but generally we are not bringing bacteria directly from the floors and bootwells of our cars onto the checkout counter – drainlayers are not standing on those counters wearing dirty boots. The reusable bag lying on the floor of your car for a week? That’s a different story.

Australian pest control companies have found cockroaches love nesting inside reusable food bags left in the garage between shopping trips.

One recent study of reusable grocery bags found 67% were infectious and some even had traces of faeces inside!

The supermarkets may be backing down on jute bags by offering reusable plastic, but reusable stronger plastic bags have the same health hazards.

The entire concept of “reusable” supermarket bags is fatally-flawed.

So where does that leave hand-wringing Prius-driving bohemians who feel guilty about plastic in the oceans? Funny you should ask: it was the “recycling” agenda of those same dumb bohemians that caused the plastic pollution in the oceans. It turns out that a lot of that plastic mountain swilling across the Pacific is recycled plastic destined for China that’s been washed overboard. Then there are the revelations that 10 large river systems (many in Asia) are the source of the balance of polluting plastic.

Therefore my virtue-signalling bohemian friends, your sacrifice and endorsement of reusable bags is an empty gesture. Worse than that, it’s outright dangerous to your health and everyone else’s. The plastic supermarket bags in New Zealand and Australia are not being washed into the oceans, killing whales. Recycled plastics sent to China are, along with pollution from the massive populations of India, China, Brazil and African states.

If you want to clean the oceans, clean those ten rivers. And use supermarket bags only once – you will probably live longer if you give up your self-imposed jihad on single-use bags.