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Greenpeace’s Swing and Miss Reveals Its Hypocrisy about Health Risks from Reusable Bags 

According to Greenpeace, my recent article on the sanitary benefits of single-use plastic bags is part of an effort to “exploit” COVID-19 fears and promote “pro-pollution agendas.” But Greenpeace’s accusations are not just wrong, they are laughable. In fact, they better describe Greenpeace’s tactics.

Greenpeace has long deployed junk science and fearmongering to push antitechnology policies that have contributed to so much human misery that 100 Nobel Prize Winners accused the organization in 2016 of committing crimes against humanity. More on that below, but first, let’s look at their latest antics.

Greenpeace does not want anyone to point out the dangers associated with reusable grocery bags because they helped create these risks by advocating bans on single-use plastic grocery bags. Despite Greenpeace’s assertions, it’s clearly helpful—not exploitative—for people to point out the relative risks associated with reusable grocery bags vs. single-use plastic bags. Greenpeace basically admits that the reusable bags can harbor dangerous pathogens, including COVID-19, by explaining that people should wash them after every use.

I highlight that same advice in my article, but I also note that only 3 precent of reusable bag consumers ever wash the bags, according to one survey conducted by University of Arizona researchers. Hopefully, that will change, but frankly, many people probably won’t bother to wash them after every use. Allowing people to choose sanitary, single-use plastic bags is a rational public health policy.

Still, Greenpeace suggests that somehow single-use plastics pose an equal or greater risk of harboring pathogens than reusable bags, citing a New England Journal of Medicine (NEJN) article. But the study NEJM highlights proves my point: These viruses can be carried around on various surfaces, which is why single-use bags often make more sense. A study cited in my article tested single-use plastic bags as well as new reusable bags and found zero pathogens on either product. Meanwhile, the study found dangerous fecal bacteria such as coliform, E. coli, and salmonella in 99 percent of the reusable bags provided to them by people who had used them to haul groceries.

Pointing out these facts is educational, while Greenpeace’s comments are the ones that involve fearmongering. Greenpeace exclaims: “The entire lifecycle of plastic is dangerous.” Greenpeace provides no data or science to support that claim. Yet numerous research studies demonstrate that single-use plastics are, in many ways, environmentally superior to reusable products.

Studies show that unless reusable bags are used more than 100 times, they require more energy to produce, create more air and water pollution, and take up more space in a landfill than do single-use plastic bags. The key to keeping plastic bags, or any trash, for that matter out of the environment isn’t bans, it’s rational policies that ensure proper disposal practices.

Greenpeace’s attack on single-use plastics is just one example of the group’s long history of pushing a radical, regressive ideology that seeks to ban a wide range of valuable technologies—without regard to the cost to human life and well-being.

The organization has even advocated a global ban on one of our best defenses against infectious agents: chlorine. In addition to its critical use in keeping our water supply clean and safe and disinfecting our hospitals, it’s used to produce 88 percent of prescription drugs sold in the United States—including the anti-malaria drug chloroquine, which may prove helpful in fighting COVID-19. Had people followed Greenpeace’s advice, we would be in a more dire situation now fighting COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

One of Greenpeace’s founders explained in The Wall Street Journal (April 22, 2008): “Ultimately, a trend toward abandoning scientific objectivity in favor of political agendas forced me to leave Greenpeace in 1986. The breaking point was a Greenpeace decision to support a world-wide ban on chlorine.”

Another egregious example of Greenpeace’s recklessness is the group’s campaign to derail the introduction of “Golden Rice.” Golden Rice was genetically engineered to include beta carotene to address Vitamin A deficiencies that kill millions of children annually in developing nations. CEI’s Gregory Conko explained back in 2016:

In 2003, environmental activists in the Philippines collaborating with Greenpeace destroyed a field trial of Golden Rice being conducted by the World Bank-sponsored International Rice Research Institute. Golden Rice is a humanitarian project—the grains engineered to produce beta carotene to provide a needed Vitamin supplement for poor rice-growing farmers in less developed countries. Activists even tried to convince Filipino farmers that walking through a field of genetically engineered corn could turn farmers gay.

Seventeen years later, Golden Rice has just been approved for use in the Philippines, yet Greenpeace continues to fight for its delay. Science journalist Katherine J. Wu notes in Smithsonian magazine:

But by the end of 2018, nearly two decades since the plant’s arrival on the scientific scene, only a handful of countries—Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, all high-income nations with few vitamin A issues—had deemed it safe to grow and eat en masse, reports Michael Le Page for New Scientist. Much of the resistance in these countries and others, Le Page writes, has come from groups campaigning against GMOs and their alleged negative effects on health.

That makes the Philippines’ approval of the crop a huge milestone, especially amidst false rumors that its beta-carotene would break down into cancer-causing chemicals, Le Page reports. (As safety assessments continue, Bangladesh may be next in line.) But the recent news has also been met with pushback: Late last month, environmental organization Greenpeace appealed the Department of Agriculture to overturn its decision, citing a lack of data and transparency in the approval process.

Greenpeace’s rigid stance against valuable GMOs is what led to the 2016 letter from 100 Nobel Prize winners denouncing Greenpeace for “a crime against humanity.”

In addition, Greenpeace has pushed bans on pesticides to fight dangerous insect-borne diseases, plastics that are vital to medical devices, and many other agro-technologies necessary for farmers to produce an ample food supply.

If it weren’t so serious, Greenpeace’s protests might appear amusing and simply red meat for unassuming and even well-meaning supporters of their agenda. But the reality is, Greenpeace attacks people who disagree with it with unsupported, flimsy arguments and personal attacks, because it doesn’t have a leg to stand on.