…and reusable shopping bags, generally. These are supposedly better for our environment than nominally single-use plastic or paper bags (though both, until they wear out, can serve other purposes than holding food or other goods—usually two or three reuses until they’re truly ready for the trash or the recycling bin).
The serious questions, though, and ones that have been missed until the current COVID-19 situation has exposed them empirically, are:
For whose environment, exactly, are reusable shopping bags better?
Who, exactly, are the ones doing the reusing?
The answer to the first is…germs.
The answer to the second is…germs.
And today, the threat to us short-sighted humans is COVID-19, right along with our old foes, bacteria. CDC has said that COVID-19 can remain viable on a large variety of surfaces for hours to days—surfaces like the burlap or canvas of some reusable bags—and especially on the plastic linings of many more reusable bags.
Researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University surveyed grocery shoppers and randomly tested their reusable bags. “Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria in half,” they wrote in their 2011 study….
And this datum:
In 2013 millions of American piglets died amid an outbreak of novel swine enteric coronavirus disease, and after an investigation the US Department of Agriculture concluded that reusable feed totes were the most likely root cause.
This has been a problem of which we’ve been aware for some years. And yet….
Does anyone really think these reusables aren’t harboring today’s COVID-19? Or the bug du jour of tomorrow’s outbreak?
Reusable bags have become strongly illustrative of unintended consequence.