Going green with reusable shopping bags can be gross

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reusable shopping bags

Image: Nejd Vesel/shutterstock

We all have “that” friend. The one who recently went all “green” and can’t buy anything without the word “natural” on the label. The one that can’t go ten sentences without telling someone they’re vegan or vegetarian. The one who insists on consuming grass-fed beef and range-free poultry, as if their few moments of bliss makes up for their eventual slaughter (which, OK, we’re pretty down with in light of Tyson’s animal-cruelty), and who protests against those who aren’t doing their part to reduce their carbon footprint. They have that “holier than though” attitude and constantly wax poetic on how yummy kale is and silently judge you if you use romaine or iceberg lettuce for your salads. Which makes it amusing that these same saviors of the natural world are kind of spreading E. coli and other pathogens with one of their favorite planet-saving techniques: reusable shopping bags.

Or what we like to call, cesspools.

Yes, according to this 2010 study with a really long name from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University, shoppers aren’t likely to wash their reusable shopping bags. This is a big no, no. And apparently 97% of the shoppers questioned while heading into grocery stores had never even thought about washing their horde of reusable shopping bags. As if they don’t understand that the cloth (cloth, as in washable material) bag that they transport unwashed fruits, veggies, and produce with is having all of the bacteria rubbed off on them and left there to settle. In fact, the university professors found that the danger was especially in the form of coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half of the bags sampled.

Why aren’t we talking about this more? Why are we drinking the “green” Kool-Aid and falling for a trick? Why are we spending money on things that are bringing disease and famine into our precious planet?

Meanwhile, New York City wants us to pay a nickel for every single-use plastic bag we use, New Jersey wants us to pay for paper and plastic, and good ole nasally Massachusetts politicians want to ban plastic bags. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 77 bills concerning singe-use plastic bags have been proposed between 2015 and June 2016.

So it’s kind of ironic that these eco-hating receptacles are actually more sanitary than the reusable shopping bags rolling around inside your trunk. It’s almost like there’s a conspiracy to make us pay more for a less healthier option while demonizing the the thing that’s less money and potentially better for us. Huh.

If this isn’t enough to turn you off, and you still think you’re saving the world by using reusable shopping bags, you’re in luck.

Most bags are made from material that can be washed just like the 100 percent cotton shirt we know you’re wearing. You just toss it in the washer and dryer and you’re good to go.

But not all reusable shopping bags are that easy to clean. Some are made from recycled materials, because what’s more eco-friendly than using reusable shopping bags made from recycled plastic containers (a.k.a. polypropylene bags)? Nothing, that’s what. Congratulations, you’ve reached peak vegan.

However, if you try to wash and dry those shopping bags in machines like the rest of the us, you’ll end up ruining all those earth-saving efforts. For those kind of reusable shopping bags, just wash with warm soapy water and line-dry.

Always make sure you check the label to see what materials your bags are made of and follow the care directions. Washing after each use should do the trick, but keep in mind that you should always wipe insulated bags with a disinfecting or sanitizing cloth, especially along the seams.

When buying reusable shopping bags, remember these simple things:

  • Always wash after each use
  • Use separate bags for raw meat, seafood, and produce
  • Label the bags to avoid cross-contamination
  • Avoid using “food” bags for non-food items, such as books
  • Make sure the bags are dry after cleaning them
  • DO NOT store reusable shopping bags in your trunk (dark, warm, and humid environments support bacteria growth)
  • Store them in a cool, dry environment where air can circulate
  • If you don’t want the screen printing on the bags to fade, wash them on a cold setting the first few times

Now you can go back to guilting others for not getting cows permission to lactate.

Sara is an editorial intern from MTSU, and an almost double major in journalism and English because she can't make up her mind. When she isn't studying or trying not to die on highway 840, Sara works on her novella and her thesis on Gothic Victorian literature, showers her dog with kisses and waits for the next Lana Del Rey album. While watching American Horror Story on repeat.

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