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The Guardian Props Up Lame Greenpeace Tirade, Ignores Potential COVID-19 Risks from Reusable Grocery Bags

The Guardian recently published a story related to a Greenpeace attack on CEI and the Manhattan Institute because we both pointed out that reusable grocery bags might contain dangerous pathogens, including COVID-19. CEI sent The Guardian a lengthy response to Greenpeace’s criticisms, and The Guardian used some quotes from that response. I wrote an even longer response on CEI.org as well.

Personally, I have no problem with people who choose reusable bags, but it’s good for them to know that reusable bags need to be washed after every use and that the bags can carry dangerous microorganisms.

I do have a problem with government bans and regulations that force people to use reusable bags when they would rather have a sanitary, single-use plastic bag. I have pointed out the dangers related to unwashed reusable grocery bags in the past, so this is not a new position. However, with COVID-19 now a reality, it’s worth pointing out the potential for additional risk.

Rather than simply addressing the substance of this issue, The Guardian article resorts to personal attacks with misinformation in an attempt to discredit those who oppose bans. Frankly, none of that matters. What matters are the facts and the best available data on the topic. Again, you can read my Washington Examiner article and my blog post for details, but below I address a couple points found in The Guardian article.

The Guardian says: “Recent studies have found that COVID-19 could be stable on plastic and steel for up to three days, compared with 24 hours for cardboard and four hours for copper. The studies have not examined how long the virus remained on cloth and there is little scientific evidence comparing reusable bags with plastic.”

My response: Thanks for making my point! Those recent studies that The Guardian noted show that COVID-19 can survive on many surfaces. By the way, many reusable bags are made of plastic, but we should be concerned about reusable bags made of all materials. The problem is not the materials but the fact that these bags are reused many times to carry food and surveys show that consumers rarely—if ever—wash them. Single-use plastic bags are generally used to carry food once, so they have less opportunity to pick up pathogens. The 2011 study I cited in Washington Examiner also examined single-use plastic bags and new reusable bags and found no pathogens, while they found dangerous bacteria in 99 percent of the reusable bags that had been used to carry food.

The Guardian says: “Logomasini quotes the same 2018 study as Tierney, as well as a 2011 study on reusable and plastic bags that looked at bacteria, not viruses, and was partly funded by the American Chemistry Council.”

My response: I did cite the 2011 study that found lots of dangerous bacteria in reusable grocery bags. That alone is a risk we all should be concerned about, but it’s also reasonable for people to be concerned that reusable bags might also carry COVID-19. My article cites a 2012 study that shows reusable bags can, in fact, carry viruses. That study reported a case in which nine soccer players contracted the norovirus—a leading cause of food poisoning—from food that was contained in a reusable grocery bag. I also cite a 2018 study that shows reusable bags are not only capable of carrying viruses, they can become a vehicle that spreads viruses to various surfaces throughout the supermarkets as shoppers haul them around. We are just now learning about COVID-19, so we still need to determine the risk level, but it’s a good idea that people be aware of the very real possibility that it too might be carried in reusable bags. Finally, who cares who funded the 2011 study? The data in it are revealing and useful.

Again, I applaud people who wash their reusable grocery bags after every use, but most people don’t, so it’s a good idea to alert people to the risk. And those people who want the option to choose a sanitary, single-use plastic bag should have that right.