All About Reusable Bags

This website examines reusable bags

— the important contribution they make to the environment and how to use them responsibly so you protect your health and the health of your loved ones. As the COVID 19 epidemic has taught us, we must keep our reusable bags clean so they don’t spread viruses.

Reusable bags have been an important market innovation

Reusable Bags were never intended as a replacement for plastic shopping bags. Each bag type plays an important role to protect the environment, your health and health of workers in the retail sector. 

Conventional plastic shopping bags are “first-use” bags and are just more sanitary than a bag that is used over and over again.  

Reusable bags have been an important market innovation developed by the plastics industry to promote reuse and help reduce the number of conventional plastic shopping bags needed for groceries. It is all about sustainability, not replacement. 

With reusable bags, the goal was to educate and encourage consumers to practice the 3R’s of responsible bag use (reduce, reuse, and recycle).

The Reusable Bag and Your Health – Public health in bag policy can no longer be ignored. Covid has taught us this.

It should not be a choice between your health and the environment.  We can do both.

What is needed is balance in bag policies that recognize the important and distinct role of each bag type and allow both bag formats to continue to perform to their strengths.

Prior to the pandemic, the debate around bags focused 110% on the environment, completely ignoring public health and the importance of protecting the health of Canadians. The pandemic changed all that because the scientists explained that the coronavirus (as with all viruses) can survive for up to 72 hours on a plastic reusable bag and other hard surfaces.

All reusables were temporarily banned, and conventional single-use plastic bags became to the go-to public health choice and declared essential because as a first-use bag, they are most sanitary choice to protect the health of Canadians.

Going forward policies on plastic bags must find a balance between concern about the environment and our health.

Pandemic or No Pandemic Reusable Bags Can Pose a Health Risk if not washed after every use

Reusable bags can pose a health risk if not washed after every use.  Reusables can become breeding ground for bacteria and viruses or transmission device for pathogens like the coronavirus, bacteria, mold and fungi.

But users rarely, if ever, clean their reusable bags and so they become breeding grounds and delivery systems for disease-causing pathogens — viruses like the coronavirus, the norovirus, and bacteria like e-coli, mold and fungi. A recent survey of Canadians found that 55% never clean their reusable bag and the other 45% clean their bag rarely.

Omnibus Poll Results

How People Use Reusable Bags  

Reusable bags are single purpose – multi-use bags. They are very popular and used for a variety of purposes – to carry groceries, to transport clothes to and from the gym, even to take care of baby accessories. There are millions of them on the market in Canada.

A vast majority of consumers use a reusable bag when grocery shopping.

87% of American consumers use them according to the Edelman Berland Reusable Bag Study. https://www.slideshare.net/EdelmanBerland/reusable-bag-study-results. A 2015 CROP Poll in Quebec showed that the majority (79%) use reusable bags when grocery shopping.

Users Own Many Reusable Bags

Consumers own multiple bags: The Edelman Berland study showed that consumers on average own 5.1 bags. This was affirmed by social media Survey Monkey polls of residents in the City of Guelph in Ontario Canada and Halifax in Nova Scotia Canada where close to 70% of reusable bag users own 5 or more bags.https://www.slideshare.net/EdelmanBerland/reusable-bag-study-results

Interestingly, respondents to the 2015 Quebec CROP Poll were very concerned that reusable bags were manufactured in Asia and not Quebec and that reusable bags cannot be recycled.

Average Number of Reuses Per Bag

Reusable bags are designed for 100 to 125 reuses. The US Edelman reusable bag study found that the average number of reuses for each bag is around 15 reuses. https://www.slideshare.net/EdelmanBerland/reusable-bag-study-results

Forgetting Factor

Many shoppers forget to take their reusable bags to the grocery store when they shop. The U.S. Edelman Berland study of reusable bag usage found a similar forgetting rate of 27%. In Quebec, respondents to the 2015 CROP study of how they use their reusable bags found a forgetting factor is close to 30%.

People do not Clean their Reusable Bags Regularly

Plastic Bags and Your Health

Reusables should be cleaned or disinfected after every use to maintain health and remove disease-causing pathogens like the coronavirus, the norovirus, e-coli and salmonella. Cleaning bags removes 99% of all pathogens.

The Edelman Berland Reusable Bag study found that 28% of users never clean or disinfect their bag; 4% clean it once a year; 15% a few times a year; 19% once a month; 19% once every few weeks Only 16% clean or disinfect their bag once a week.

Other research: A study by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found that 97% of those interviewed in their sample never washed their reusable bags.
https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/reusable-grocery-bags-contaminated-with-e-coli-other-bacteria

The findings are similar in Canada. Canadians do not clean their reusable bags with any degree of regularity to ensure their safe usage instore. A survey of Canadians in May 2020 found that a majority of users do not clean their bags. 55% of Canadians don’t wash their reusable bags. 68% of Canadians claim they are aware unwashed bags can transmit of pathogens that can cause illness and cross contaminate their food.

How Canadians Store their Reusable Bags

Canadians store bags in places that are likely to breed bacteria and mold. 29% store their reusable bags in a vehicle; 21% under the sink; 20% on the floorOnly 16% store the bags in a drawer and 14% hang them up to keep them off the floor.

Benefits and Weaknesses of Reusable Bags

Every carry bag has strengths and weaknesses. If policymakers continue to overlook the weaknesses of reusable bags, they will not prove helpful in our effort to reach zero waste or reduce carbon emissions.

Environmentally, reusable bags are important tools to reduce demand for conventional plastic bags, if they are used responsibly. However, there are issues that must be addressed.

Environmentally, reusables are great bags if used properly and reused 100 to 125 times. There were never intended as a replacement for the more hygienic conventional plastic shopping bag.  They were introduced to encourage consumers to practise the 3R’s- reduce, reuse and recycle their grocery bags.

However, reusable bags have a number of environmental problems. Reusable bags use more resources in their making, have a higher carbon footprint, and are not recyclable.

1. Not reused enough

Very resource and carbon-intensive, reusable bags, whether made of polypropylene, cotton, or some other plastic, are not reused enough to offset the many resources used to make them sturdy and durable.

Reusable bags need to be reused 100 – 125 times to justify their heavy carbon intensity. The Edelman Berland Usage Study suggests that the bags are generally only reused 15 times before being replaced.

Single-use plastic shopping bags, on the other hand, contrary to public perception, are reused many times. They have very high reuse rates ranging from 60% in Ontario to 77% in Quebec. Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba even reports a 90%+ reuse rate in the Province of Manitoba. They are reused for shopping, as book bags, as lunch bags and to pick up after pets.

2. More carbon-intensive – Reusable bags have a much higher carbon footprint than conventional plastic bags

Every scientific Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) shows that plastic shopping bags are the best bag environmentally. They have the lowest carbon footprint and lowest global warming potential of all bags on the market.

According to the Quebec Government LCA, the Polypropylene woven (WPP) and PP non-woven bags (NWPP) need a very high number of reuses to equal the environmental impact of the thin plastic shopping bag used just once; 16 to 98 and 11 to 59 bag reuses respectively versus using a plastic shopping bag just once. The Quebec LCA also found cotton bag, depending on the impact studied, need to be used 100 to 2900 times more than one plastic bag. https://www.recyc-quebec.gouv.qc.ca/sites/default/files/documents/acv-sacs-emplettes-rapport-complet.pdf

The U.K. Government LCA produced similar findings; finding that a cotton reusable bag has to be reused 131 times in order to have the same impact on the environment as a plastic shopping bag used just once. Non-woven polypropylene bags would have to be reused 11 times to match the environmental benefit of the conventional thin bag used just once. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/291023/scho0711buan-e-e.pdf

3. Not recycled – No technology. Making zero waste impossible. 

This is the biggest problem with the use of reusable bags because they are multi-material bags. They are not recycled even though many claim to be recyclable. So reusable bags end up in landfill as garbage making zero waste impossible.

The technology does not exist yet in North America to recycle them. And it is expensive to recycle them because they are made using different materials to make them stronger so they last longer. To recycle them, the bags must be deconstructed sorting the different materials which is very expensive and labour intensive.

LDPE bags for life made using polyethylene and paper bags can both be recycled. Cotton reusable bags shrink with repeated washing. Woven and non-woven polypropylene reusables, the most popular bags on the market, cannot be recycled using existing technologies.

Impact on Zero Waste – Landfills

A bag policy that bans conventional plastic shopping bags and relies 100% on reusable bags makes it very difficult if not impossible to ever achieve zero waste because reusable bags are not recyclable and will end up in landfills at the end of their useful life as a carry bag.

4. Not washed enough: Reusables pose a public health risk

Reusable bags can pose a public health risk if not washed repeatedly. Regular cleaning of the bag removes 99% of all pathogens.

However, if the bags are not washed regularly, they harbour and grow disease-causing pathogens that can cross contaminate food and even get on the surface of the bag so the pathogens like the coronavirus can be transported into the store putting front-line workers at risk.

That is why retailers at the start of the pandemic temporarily banned the use of reusable bags after scientists found that the coronavirus can survive for 72 hours on plastic and other hard surfaces.

In addition, there is ample research conducted over the past 10 years that shows that the overwhelming majority of reusable bag users do not clean or disinfect their bags on a regular basis. Over time, disease-causing pathogens viruses, bacteria, mold and fungi build up in the bags – pathogens like the coronavirus, the norovirus, E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter – and pose a health risk. That is why bag policies must also consider public health impacts in their environmental calculations.

Each year, millions of Canadians get sick from disease-causing pathogens. It accounts for 11,000 hospitalizations and in some cases, death.

Omnibus PollsPlastic Bags and Your Health

Fix the Problems – Introduce a New and Improved Reusable Bag:

California has already moved in this direction. The reusable bag environmental soft spots can be addressed by moving quickly to mandate that all reusable bags be recycled here in Canada. We have already begun to see this move in the United States with the introduction of polyethylene reusable bags which are 100% recyclable and capable of 125+ reuses.

The plastic bag industry is ready to introduce a similar bag to what was mandated by the State of California. It is a thick polyethylene bag made in Canada that can be reused 125+ times. It is 100% recyclable with up to 40% recycled content and can be recycled here in Canada.

Protect Your Health

During the pandemic, the use of reusable bags in retail establishments was temporarily banned to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after scientists discovered that the virus could survive for 72 hours on hard surfaces like plastic. To protect consumers and front-line workers, the only bag allowed in retail stores was the conventional plastic shopping bag (aka “single-use”) because it is the most sanitary bag being a “first-use” bag.

Retailers were concerned that because reusable bags are rarely washed by consumers, the bags might harbour the coronavirus on their surface and transport it throughout the store where it would contaminate multiple surfaces. Research shows that in Canada only 45% of users ever clean their reusable bag. Cleaning reusables removes 99% of all pathogens.

Fortunately, Canada still has the capacity to produce conventional plastic shopping bags so it could mobilize to help protect Canadians during the pandemic. The Canadian bag industry went into overdrive to meet the needs of retailers who wanted to help stop the spread of the virus. The bag industry even quietly donated close to half a million bags to food banks across Canada to food banks and help feed the most in need.

Reusable Bags and Your Health

Reusable bags are an important tool to encourage reuse of your carry bag so you don’t have to use as many conventional plastic shopping bags. The problem is that people do not clean their reusable bags often enough. And over time with repeated usage, these great carry bags can become contaminated with viruses, bacteria, mold and fungus that can cause disease

During the pandemic, the use of reusable bags in retail establishments was temporarily banned to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after scientists discovered that the virus could survive for 72 hours on hard surfaces like plastic. To protect consumers and front-line workers, the only bag allowed in retail stores was the conventional plastic shopping bag (aka “single-use”) because it is the most sanitary bag being a “first-use” bag.

Retailers were concerned that because reusable bags are rarely washed by consumers, the bags might harbour the coronavirus on their surface and transport it throughout the store where it would contaminate multiple surfaces. Research shows that in Canada only 45% of users ever clean their reusable bag. Cleaning reusables removes 99% of all pathogens.

The coronavirus is the worst example of this but there are other familiar disease-causing pathogens that can grow in your bag and hitch a ride into the grocery store or onto your food like e-Coli, salmonella, the norovirus, the coronavirus, listeria, campylobacter.

Many reusable bag users do not practice proper bag hygiene which creates a serious public health risk. A recent survey of Canadians found that 55% never clean their reusable bags. A study by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found that 97% of those interviewed in their sample never washed their reusable bags.

The Stats

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada 4 million Canadians (1 in people) get sick each year from contaminated food. Nationally, over 11,500 hospitalizations and 240 deaths occur each year due to food-related illnesses

Public health is a 24/7 and 365 day/year priority that needs to continue even after the current COVID pandemic subsides. One of the chief benefits of plastic shopping bags and other single-use plastic food packaging is that they help prevent our food from being contaminated by noxious pathogens – viruses like the coronavirus and norovirus, bacteria like e-Coli, molds, and yeast that can make you sick and can even be fatal.

Plastic bags and Your Health

Public Health Research

Over the past decade, there has been considerable research on reusable bags and their ability to act as an incubator and transmitter of viruses, bacteria, fungi and mold.

Public research has focused in two areas:

1. The inside of the reusable bag and the growth of potential cross contamination of groceries carried in and on the bag surfaces by disease-causing pathogens.

2. The outside of the bag as a transmitter of viruses, bacteria and other pathogens.

Prestigious Institutions have studied reusable bags and disease transmission.

There have been multiple pieces of scientific research conducted by prestigious institutions including John Hopkins Medical School, the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Health, Princeton University, UCLA, the University of Arizona, and Sporometrics, Canadian experts in environmental and medical microbiology. International Outbreak Museum     http://www.outbreakmuseum.com/mobile/norovirus/shopping-bag-norovirus/

The findings of the studies have been consistent.

All studies found that the interior of bags can become an active microbial habitat and breeding ground for bacteria, coliform bacteria, yeast and mold concluding that reusable bags can pose a significant public health risk due to possible cross contamination of food placed in the bag. The studies also found that washing or cleaning reusable bags removes 99.9% of all pathogens. Other studies found that reusable bags can transmit the norovirus on their surface. This mode of viral transmission raised serious concerns about the use of reusable bags during the pandemic particularly when scientists advised that the coronavirus can survive up to 72 hours on plastic and use of reusable bags was temporarily suspended in retail stores.

Cross Contamination Research

 

2009 Canadian Study by Sporometrics – Experts in Environmental and Medical Microbiology

A Microbiological Study of Reusable Bags and `First or single …

May 2009

This was the first such study done on the use of reusable bags in North America and their potential to transmit pathogens to food.

Report written by Dr. Richard Summerbell, Ph. D.  who is Director of Research Services at Sporometrics, in Toronto, Canada.

Sporometrics are experts in environmental and medical microbiology. Dr. Summerbell is also Associate Professor, Occupational & Environmental Health Division, at the University of Toronto.

This Canadian study found the following:

  • The test findings clearly support concerns that reusable grocery bags can become an active microbial habitat and a breeding ground for bacteria, yeast, mold and coliforms. This is supported by the high bacterial counts showing that the bag surface can harbour or breed substantial bacterial populations.
  • This study provides strong evidence that reusable bags could pose a significant risk to the safety of the food supply if used to transport food from store to home. Public health risks relate to the possible cross contamination of food placed in bags contaminated by previous use in successive trips, as well as transfer of contaminants in the check-out packing process from one bag to another.
  • The possible disturbance and dispersal of mold spores from the contaminated bags into the air could also be a cause for concern, particularly for checkout clerks.
  • The swab testing demonstrates that single use plastic shopping bags and other first use carry bag options are more hygienic than reusables.
  • For those with health conditions affecting the immunity (i.e. those with hard to control forms of Type II diabetes, those on heavy corticosteroid doses or those with serious immunocompromising conditions), first use bags are a safer health choice.
  • In future cases of food poisoning, family doctors and public health officials should add the reusable grocery bag to the list of possible sources of contamination to be investigated. The 13 million annual cases of food poisoning in Canada often involve contaminated surfaces passing bacteria on to food.
  • The use of reusable bags as a multi-purpose tote by a majority of bag owners in this study is a cause for concern, particularly if the reusable bags are used to transport gym equipment or diapers. Gym equipment may carry drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains, skin infecting dermatophyte fungi and other dangerous microorganisms.

In conclusion, the drafting of protocols on the hygienic use of reusables should be considered a public health policy priority including the suggested regular replacement of their reusable bag. This is especially true at a time when governments and retailers are making strong efforts to reduce the use of “single-use”/ “first-use” carry bags and replace them with carry bags that are used repeatedly by consumers.

Assessment of the Potential for Cross-contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags

David L. Williams, 1 Charles P. Gerba, 1 * Sherri Maxwell1 and Ryan G. Sinclair2 1 Dept. of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA; and 2 Loma Linda University School of Public Health, Dept. of Environmental Health, Loma Linda, CA 92354, USA

https://lluh.org/sites/medical-center.lomalindahealth.org/files/docs/LIVE-IT-Sinclair-Article-Cross-Contamination-Reusable-Shopping-Bags.pdf?rsource=medical-cente

Transmission Research

Report: 2010 Oregon norovirus outbreak tied to reusable grocery bag

By Michelle Castillo | May 9, 2012

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/report-2010-oregon-norovirus-outbreak-tied-to-reusable-grocery-bag

“This is the first-ever reported case of transmitting this virus with an inanimate object, basically,” Dr. Kimberly K. Repp, PhD, an epidemiologist with the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Norovirus transmitted from Reusable Bag

https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/05/the-case-of-the-contaminated-reusable-grocery-bag/

Study: The Spread of a Norovirus Surrogate via Reusable Grocery Bags in a Grocery Supermarket

https://www.neha.org/sites/default/files/flipping_book/june-2018-jeh/files/assets/basic-html/page-8.html#


Policy by the Province of Ontario – Restaurant and food services health and safety during COVID-19

Chief Medical Officer as part of tips to employers advised – “Do not accept re-usable bags or containers that are to be handled by your staff.”

https://www.ontario.ca/page/restaurant-and-food-services-health-and-safety-during-covid-19

Impact of Plastic Bag Bans on Disease Spread

Grocery Bag Bans and Foodborne Illness

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d842/d2d5394edbe91e2019a32739ead38f738d9e.pdf

Research conducted by Jonathan Klick and Joshua D. Wright from the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Law & Economics research paper concluded that the San Francisco ban on plastic bags has led to an increase in bacterial foodborne illnesses and deaths. Klick & Wright found that San Francisco’s policy of banning of plastic bags has caused a significant increase in gastrointestinal bacterial infections and a “46 percent increase in the deaths from foodborne illnesses”.

Fast Food Outlets Suspend Use of Reusables

South Korea undoes ban on disposable plastic utensils at cafes & restaurants due to Covid-19

Ashley Tan | February 25, 11:58 pm
https://mothership.sg/2020/02/covid-19-south-korea-ease-ban-plastics  

Tim Hortons suspends cup giveaway, won’t use refillable …

www.theglobeandmail.com › business › article-tim-hortons-suspends-…Mar 6, 2020 – Those who show up with a reusable mug will still receive the usual 10-cent discount at Starbucks and 20 cents at Second Cup, but will be served …

Starbucks temporarily suspends use of personal reusable …

kvoa.com › coronavirus-coverage › 2020/03/09 › starbucks-temporar…

Mar 9, 2020 – TUCSON – Starbucks is suspending its use of personal reusable cups. The coffee chain says it will continue to honor the discount if you bring in …

Tim Hortons suspends use of reusable cups over COVID-19 …

www.ctvnews.ca › health › coronavirus › tim-hortons-suspends-use-of-r…Mar 6, 2020 – TORONTO — Tim Hortons has suspended the use of reusable cups over COVID-19 fears. Rival chains Starbucks and The Second Cup have …

Starbucks suspends use of reusable cups amid coronavirus …

www.businessinsider.com › starbucks-reusable-cups-coronavirus-fear-… Mar 5, 2020 – Starbucks has suspended the use of reusable cups at its stores in order to protect staff and customers from the coronavirus. The company will …

Canada’s Tim Hortons and The Second Cup halt use of …

www.digitaljournal.com › business › article Mar 6, 2020 – Along with rival brands Starbucks and The Second Cup, Tim Hortons, Canada’s leading restaurant brand has suspended the use of reusable …

Coffee shops no longer filling reusable mugs; Starbucks …

www.kmbc.com › article › coffee-shops-no-longer-filling-reusable-m…   days ago – Coffee shops no longer filling reusable mugs; Starbucks suspends use of … Starbucks and Dunkin’ are stopping the use of reusable mugs.

Starbucks, Second Cup Stop Accepting Reusable Cups Over …

www.huffingtonpost.ca › entry › starbucks-reusable-cups-coronavirus…Mar 5, 2020 – Starbucks Suspends Personal Cup Use At.. … Starbucks and The Second Cup Ltd. say they are temporarily halting the environmentally friendly …

COVID-19 Transmission Research

Letter to the New England Journal of Medicine on the aerosol and surface stability of COVID 19 now called SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1

https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2004973

John Hopkins Medical School, the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Health, Princeton University, UCLA

This letter was published on March 17, 2020, at NEJM.org, and signed by 13 scientists.

“TO THE EDITOR:

A novel human coronavirus that is now named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (formerly called HCoV-19) emerged in Wuhan, China, in late 2019 and is now causing a pandemic.1 We analyzed the aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 and compared it with SARS-CoV-1, the most closely related human coronavirus.

We evaluated the stability of SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1 in aerosols and on various surfaces and estimated their decay rates using a Bayesian regression model. We found that the stability of SARS-CoV-2 was similar to that of SARS-CoV-1 under the experimental circumstances tested. SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces. On copper, no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 4 hours and no viable SARS-CoV-1 was measured after 8 hours. On cardboard, no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 24 hours and no viable SARS-CoV-1 was measured after 8 hours.

The findings provide information for pandemic mitigation efforts.”

Government Mandates Temporarily Banning Reusable Bags

Health Canada Alert

https://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/hc-sc/2011/13613a-eng.php

 

Province of Ontario – Restaurant and food services health and safety during COVID-19

Chief Medical Officer as part of tips to employers advised – “Do not accept re-usable bags or containers that are to be handled by your staff.”

https://www.ontario.ca/page/restaurant-and-food-services-health-and-safety-during-covid-19

 

British Columbia Province Health Link

https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-feature/coronavirus-covid-19

 

An update from LCBO President & CEO George Soleas

https://www.lcbo.com/content/lcbo/en/corporate-pages/about/media-centre/news/2020-03-18.html Mar 18, 2020 – You are all aware of how quickly COVID-19 continues to evolve and the great deal of news coming out, … Please pack your own reusable bags.

 

Should you use a reusable shopping bag? Government, stores have different answers

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/reusable-shopping-bag-covid-19-1.5518765

Apr 2, 2020 – Saxsinger did not offer an opinion on the use of reusable bags, but she said they … Ontario rejects regional phase-outs of COVID-19 restrictions

United Food & Commercial Workers Letter to BC Government – March 17, 2020

UFCW 1518 calls on BC Government to take action to protect grocery and pharmacy workers

Today, UFCW 1518 sent an urgent letter to BC Minister of Labour Bains calling for several emergency actions to protect grocery and pharmacy store workers.

“Grocery store and pharmacy workers are on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis,” said President Kim Novak, “they are bravely facing extraordinary challenges to keep Canadians fed and get them the essential supplies they need. They deserve government action to help keep themselves and the public safe.”

The letter demands that the BC Government take action to help workers who may become sick as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. It asks for extra precautionary measures to prevent illness from spreading in grocery stores and pharmacies. Finally, it calls for urgent discussions to help workers with childcare needs including offering paid family leave.

The measures that UFCW 1518 is asking for include:

 

  1. Temporarily ban reusable bags

Enact a temporary ban on reusable bags in grocery stores and pharmacies. These bags can act as vectors for the COVID-19 contagion, spreading the virus from location to location.

Implementing these important measures will help front-line grocery and pharmacy workers to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic while keeping themselves and their loved ones safe.

 

Click here to read a full copy of the letter that was sent to Minister Bains.

UFCW 1518 represents over 23,000 members working across BC & the Yukon. We are known as the leading experts on workers’ rights in the retail and industrial foods industries. If you want to learn more about UFCW 1518 and what a union can do to help bring positive change to your workplace please visit: ufcw1518.com/join-us

Grocery Stores and Local Governments Imposing Temporary Reusable Bag Bans

Save-On-Foods temporarily bans reusable bags amid COVID-19 crisis

Scott Cunningham Journalist, CTV Vancouver Island Published Thursday, March 19, 2020

https://vancouverisland.ctvnews.ca/save-on-foods-temporarily-bans-reusable-bags-amid-covid-19-crisis-1.4860576

Unwashed reusable grocery bags breed bacteria

Peter Kent November 2, 2010
https://newsstand.clemson.edu/mediarelations/unwashed-reusable-grocery-bags-breed-bacteria/

Loblaws

Loblaw temporarily waives plastic bag fee – BC Local News

“We will begin temporarily waiving the $0.05 plastic bag fee to discourage the use of reusable bags and ask those of you who do bring them to bag your own items. It’s that less touching thing again.”  -Galen Weston

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro asks for ban on reusable bags to prevent coronavirus’ spread

By Christopher Burns, BDN Staff • March 16, 2020 9:15 am
https://bangordailynews.com/2020/03/16/news/waterville/waterville-mayor-nick-isgro-asks-for-ban-on-reusable-bags-to-prevent-coronavirus-spread/

Grocery shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic | CTV News

www.ctvnews.ca › health › coronavirus › how-to-grocery… Mar 25, 2020 – How to grocery-shop safely during the COVID-19 outbreak … Some grocery stores have changed their reusable bag policy in light of the outbreak.

Waterville mayor asks to ban reusable shopping bags during coronavirus outbreak

BY TAYLOR ABBOTT March 15, 2020
https://www.centralmaine.com/2020/03/15/waterville-mayor-asks-to-ban-reusable-bags-during-coronavirus-outbreak/

Reusable bag policy changes coming to grocery stores due to …

winnipeg.ctvnews.ca › reusable-bag-policy-changes-comi…Mar 19, 2020 – … stores are changing their reusable bag policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. … Canadian Superstore, is also making changes to its reusable bag policy … Government faces opposition grilling over COVID-19 response as ..

Waterville mayor seeks to suspend plastic bag ban over coronavirus fears

by WGME.  Sunday, March 15th 2020
https://wgme.com/news/local/waterville-mayor-seeks-to-suspend-plastic-bag-ban-over-coronavirus-fears

Using tote bags instead of plastic could help spread the coronavirus

By John Tierney

March 14, 2020 | 9:10am

https://nypost.com/2020/03/14/using-tote-bags-instead-of-plastic-could-help-spread-the-coronavirus

Clemson Professor Says Delay Bag Ban For Coronavirus Concerns

By Stephen Witt & Chaya Gurkov. Posted on February 28,2020
https://www.kingscountypolitics.com/clemson-professor-says-delay-bag-ban-for-coronavirus-concerns/

Maine Mayor Slams Big City Plastic Bag Bans as Researchers Say Reusables Spread Wuhan Virus

Published Mar 15, 2020 By Matthew McDonald
https://bigleaguepolitics.com/maine-mayor-slams-big-city-plastic-bag-bans-as-researchers-say-reusables-spread-wuhan-virus/

 

Cleaning Reusables

If you plan to use reusable bags, you need to wash, sanitize and store your reusables correctly to reduce the risk of illness. Cleaning your bag removes 99% of all pathogens – viruses like the coronavirus or the norovirus, bacteria like e-Coli, and salmonella that are disease-causing pathogens.

If you are unable to ensure reusable bags have been properly sanitized, play it safe and use a single use plastic shopping bag. As a first-use bag, it is most sanitary option.

How to Clean Your Reusable Bag

Hot soapy water or a sanitizer work just fine. Just remember to clean your bags after every use.

Reusable Polypropylene Bags

The Most Common Reusable

Do not put these bags in the washing machine or dryer. They will melt in a dryer. 

Option #1: Wipe both the inside and outside by hand with warm soapy water or use a sanitizer and air dry completely. Don’t forget the inner and outer seams. Remove the bottom insert of your reusable bag before washing.

Clean the insert, which is usually cardboard, or cardboard covered with vinyl or fabric, with a disinfecting spray cleaner.

Option #2: Fill your kitchen sink with detergent and add some hydrogen peroxide. The detergent gets rid of the dirt. The hydrogen peroxide kills the pathogens. Let them sit for 15 minutes, then rinse and dry them.

Polyester, Cotton and Canvas Bags

Toss them in the washing machine, launder in hot water with detergent, then, put them in the dryer. Cotton bags may shrink in the dryer.

Nylon bags

Flip them inside out and wash them by hand in warm soapy water. If you prefer to machine wash them, use the gentlest cycle to prevent the bag from coming apart. Then, allow them to air dry.

How to Store your Reusable Bag

If you find yourself in the reusable grocery bag dilemma of having no clue where to put them, read our tips.

With conventional plastic shopping bags, storage is easy as they can be squished and stored in one another or in a plastic bag storage container. Storing inside another plastic bag is easy. Just roll them up, put them into one bag and loosely tie the top of the plastic bag so they don’t spill out.

Reusable bags tend to be larger and harder to compact and you want to limit the possibility of breeding bacteria so where you store them is important.

Reusable shopping bags: Reusable bags tend to be larger and harder to compact and you want to limit the possibility of breeding bacteria so where you store them is important

Storage Solutions 101

Step One:

Organize your bags. Now is a good time to evaluate your bags. Edit out any that have seen better days and sort the remaining into groups by use.

Separate your bags for different purposes. Have a bag for groceries; a bag for the gym; a bag for your shoes; a bag for baby etc. When it comes to groceries, you might even want to colour code them so you have for example, red bags for meat, green bags for fruits and vegetables; blue for frozen goods, etc.

Step Two:

Once you’ve got your keepers solidified, sort them by size or type. Remember – you want to keep your grocery/food bags separate from your other bags to prevent cross contamination of items!

This is the time to clean any reusable bags that haven’t been washed recently – hot soapy water or sanitizer work just fine. Make sure to get into all the seams to ensure you’re cleaning every nook and cranny.

Step Three:

Choose how to store your bags. You want to ensure you’re storing your reusable bags where there is good air circulation to prevent bacteria growth. Studies have shown that bacteria are capable of growth when stored in the trunks of cars, under the sink or on the closet floor. This means storing in the trunk or under the sink are bad ideas.

Smaller bags can just be folded in half, and placed in a drawer, bin, or basket for easy access.  Larger bags can be folded and bundled. As with smaller reusable bags, you can store your large bags in a basket or bin, hang them on a hook or leave one bag un-unbundled and use that to house the rest. Just make sure that it is a dry clean place.

New and Improved Reusable Bags

A new type of reusable bag is needed in Canada. The current slate of reusable bags used in grocery stores are not recyclable even if they are labelled as recyclable. It is a technology problem and a cost issue. The technology does not exist to recycle the bags and because most reusable bags are made using different materials, they need to be disassembled and the different materials sorted so they can be recycled.

The other issue is that most reusable bags are made in Asia where environmental controls are not as stringent.

What is needed is a new and improved reusable bag that is 100% recyclable and is not only made in Canada, but can be recycled here in Canada.

The State of California has already moved in this direction mandating this type of bag into the marketplace.

Introducing a New and Improved Reusable Bag

The Canadian plastics industry is ready to go. It has developed a new and improved reusable bag that can be easily cleaned and is 100% recyclable. It also contains as much as 40% recycled content.

The new and improved reusable is made from thick polyethylene, is made in Canada and is recyclable locally. The more environmentally friendly reusable bag is not only 100% recyclable, but can be reused 125+ times.

Benefits of the New and Improved Reusable Bag

Environmental

  • Can be reused 125+ times
  • Up to 40% recycled content
  • Is 100% recyclable
  • Made in Canada and can be recycled locally using existing recycling infrastructure
  • Helps reduce GHG emissions and carbon emissions as current reusables like the Sobeys bag are more resource and carbon intensive
  • Makes zero plastic waste and circular economy possible

Economic

  • Since the bags are made in Canada and not China, creates thousands of Canadian jobs
  • 40% recycled content creates built-in market for local recycled resin strengthening the economics to expand the recycling industry
  • Extends life of the local landfill
  • Eliminates the waste of valuable used plastic which should never end up in landfill

Social

  • Creates and supports Canadian jobs spreading economic prosperity

Canada does not have to lose bag manufacturing capacity and jobs because of bag bans

One of the big lessons coming out of Canada’s COVID 19 pandemic response is that single use plastic shopping bags helped protect Canadians. They helped stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Fortunately for Canadians, Canada has a healthy and strong plastic bag manufacturing industry with the capability to meet the increased demand when retailers and governments during the pandemic when reusable bags were temporarily banned.

Plastic shopping bags did not have to be imported from China or the U.S.

The plastic bag industry stepped up to the plate and worked overtime to increase production of plastic shopping bags to protect Canadians and donated half a million bags to charities and food banks.

Plastic shopping bags became a critical public health tool and the manufacture of plastic shopping bags was declared essential in many provinces.

So why put that in jeopardy? Declaring plastic manufactured products toxic or banning plastic shopping bags means the permanent loss of our capability to ever again manufacture these important products.

And the economic impacts are severe. With bans, factories close, and thousands of jobs are lost forever.

Reusable Bag Types – The Most Popular Bags on the Market

  • There are two basic types of reusable bags on the market – plastic and natural fibre bags.
  • Reusables are generally heavier and more durable bags, constructed to have a longer life. Often, they are made of more than one material to give the bag added strength and durability which makes recycling cost prohibitive.
  • On a life cycle basis, stronger, heavier bags—no matter what material they are made from— have a more significant environmental impact because heavier bags use more resources and energy in their manufacture.
  • All bags are reusable. Even the thin plastic shopping bag (high-density polyethylene) often identified as a “single-use” bag has high secondary reuse to manage household waste – 77% in Quebec and as high as 90% in Manitoba.
  • But not all reusables are recyclable. Most reusable bags are not recycled even though they are often labelled recyclable. Why? There are two reasons.
    1. The technology does not exist in North America to recycle them.
    2. Recycling them is cost prohibitive.
  • Because reusables usually are made from several different materials, the bags have to be deconstructed during the recycling process into their separate materials. This makes recycling of reusable bags is complicated, time intensive, and costly.

Reusable Plastic Bags

  • There are a number of options available, made from different polymers: Recycled PET/Polyester, Polypropylene, Nylon, Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) and High-Density Polyethylene.
  • The most popular reusable bags, used in grocery stores, are Recycled PET and Non-woven Polypropylene bags.
  • The industry is now introducing a new and improved polyethylene plastic bag to address the environmental failings of the current reusable bags currently on the market.
  • The new and improved reusable will be 50 microns thick (3x’s thicker than the thin single-use bag), 100% recyclable, capable of 100 plus reuses and contain as much as 40% recycled content. This new and improved reusable can easily and conveniently be wiped clean because it has no sewn seams and few gussets.

Recycled PET Reusable Bag

Advantages

  • It looks and feels like a fabric bag but is made from post-consumer recycled plastic (PET#1) bottles e.g. Loblaw’s’ reusable bag.
  • Recycled PET makes a strong and durable, eco-friendly fabric.
  • It can be blended with other fabrics, like hemp or polyester to make a nice material for reusable bags.

Disadvantages

  • Typically manufactured off shore in Asia
  • Not recommended for machine washing (hand wash only)
  • Not recycled so ends up in landfill

Non-Woven Polypropylene Reusable Bags (PP)

Advantages

  • This is the most common type of reusable used in grocery outlets because of its strength and slightly rigid, sturdy profile.
  • It is made from spun, bonded, non-woven polypropylene and can be made from recycled materials. And it comes in a wide variety of material color and printing options.
  • It is easy to wipe clean and disinfect.

Disadvantages

  • Not recycled anywhere because of cost and lack of capacity
  • Most made in Asia
  • Not recommended for machine washing (hand wash or spray clean only)
  • Needs to be washed regularly to prevent bacterial cross contamination of food and transmission of pathogens into stores

Nylon Reusable Bags

Advantages

  • Nylon is a type of synthetic polymer originally made to replace silk in fabrics. It is a strong, durable, lightweight material that is water resistant and compacts easily.
  • It can be easily dyed which creates interesting material colour options.

Disadvantages          

  • Not recyclable
  • Needs to be washed regularly to prevent bacterial cross contamination of food

Low density Polyethylene Reusable Bags (LDPE), a.k.a. “Bags-for-Life”

Advantages

  • These are thick gauged, heavy duty plastic bags that often have a high recycled content.
  • They are highly recyclable, convenient and have high reuse; can be reused as kitchen catchers.
  • They are made in Canada and can be recycled in Canada.

Disadvantages

  • Few disadvantages except for litter concerns because of their somewhat lightweight nature.
  • UK Environment Agency study of supermarket bags found that the LDPE “Bag-for-Life” has to be used five times to match the environmental impact of using a conventional plastic shopping bag (HDPE) once

INTRODUCING A NEW AND IMPROVED REUSABLE BAG

  • The industry is introducing a new and improved reusable bag made from thick gauge polyethylene that:
  • Is 100% recyclable.
  • Contains up to 40% recycled content.
  • Is reusable 125 plus reuses.
  • And can be easily wiped clean and disinfected after every use.

Natural Fibre Bags

Cotton & Canvas Bags

Advantages

  • Cotton and canvas bags are made from traditional cotton, organic cotton or recycled cotton bags. They are made from natural plant fibre and are strong, durable bags (typically 8-12 ounces) that can be washed in cold water.
  • Traditional cotton is made from a renewable crop source, but requires chemicals and pesticides and consumes huge quantities of water.
  • Organic cotton is grown without pesticides, which is helpful in reducing the negative environmental footprint of cotton production.
  • Recycled cotton consists of reclaimed organic and traditional cotton “scrap” which is spun into new yarn.

Disadvantages

  • Heavy environmental footprint and global warming potential; huge pesticide use
  • Traditional (non-organic) cotton production accounts for 16% of the world’s pesticide use
  • High water consumption crop
  • Bags are not moisture resistant, unless chemically treated
  • Heavy, bulky and expensive to ship
  • Not recyclable in Canada
  • Tend to shrink over time with washing
  • To match the efficiency of using a plastic shopping bag just once, each cotton bag must be reused anywhere from 131 times to 2000 times compensate for its large carbon footprint/global warming potential compared to a thin plastic shopping bag.

Reusable Paper Bags

Advantages

  • Reuse of paper bags is problematic. They lose strength when wet and tear.
  • There is no significant reuse of the bags.
  • However, because they made from paper, they are recyclable.
  • And if littered they are less persistent in the environment.
  • They can be made in Canada although most are imported.

Disadvantages

  • Not durable—tears and loses strength when wet.
  • The bags are also anywhere from seven to ten times heavier than lightweight plastic bags so produce seven times more waste and carbon emissions.
  • Their heavier weight and larger volume means more trucks needed to recover which adds costs to municipal waste management
  • Their weight adds to transportation distribution costs and increased greenhouse gas emissions

Omnibus Poll Results

READ THE FULL REPORT

Overview

The following represents the results of a May 2020 national omnibus telephone survey of N=2000 Canadian residents, 18 years of age or older, conducted by Oraclepoll Research Ltd.   

The results contained in this report are from the questions subscribed to by public relations post on issues related to reusable bags, their cleanliness and storage.   

Study Sample & Error Rates

A total of N=   2000 interviews were completed, with residents across Canada. All respondents were screened to ensure that they were residents of Canada and they were 18 years of age or older. Adjacent is a breakdown of the total sample by area or region. The margin of error for the total N= 2000 sample is ± 2.1%, 19 times out of 20.

Survey Method

All surveys were conducted by telephone using live operators using computer-assisted techniques of telephone interviewing (CATI) and random number selection (RDD). The dual sample frame random database was inclusive of landline and cellular telephone numbers.

All calls were made by Oraclepoll research staff that are set up and are working from their residences to ensure safety during the 2020 Covid19 pandemic.  Our supervisors and research team members continue to adhere to strict supervisory and monitoring standards including the ability to spot monitor calls and questionnaire completion

Logistics

Interviews were completed between the days of May 16th to May 26th, 2020.

Initial calls were made between the hours of 5 pm and 9 pm within each time zone. Subsequent call backs of no-answers and busy numbers were made on a (staggered) daily rotating basis up to 5 times (from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. within each time zone) until contact was made. In addition, telephone interview appointments were attempted with those respondents unable to complete the survey at the time of contact.

Executive Summary of Findings

OMNIBUS SURVEY ON CONSUMER CLEANING AND STORAGE OF REUSABLE BAGS

REPORT 06/03/20

The Bag Task Group undertook a survey of Canadians to better understand how reusable bag users maintain their reusable bags.

There is ample scientific research that shows that reusable bags unless managed properly can pose a public heath risk to users — transmit viruses and other noxious pathogens and cross contaminate foods.

Until the pandemic the public health benefits of plastic shopping bags and single use plastics were ignored in public policy decisions related to bags. Bag bans had been implemented in a number of provinces in Canada prior to the pandemic but were suspended during the crisis.

There is concern that once the threat of the coronavirus has passed, those bag bans will be reinstated.

What was done

An omnibus telephone survey of 2,000 Canadians was conducted nationally in May 2020. The survey was fielded by OraclePoll Research using random phone number selection to eliminate bias.

An omnibus survey is a quantitative research survey technique where multiple questions on a variety of topics are posed during the same interview.

The bag group part of the process asked 6 questions related to how reusable bag users clean and store their bags. Interviews were completed between the days of May 16th to May 26th, 2020. The poll is accurate +/- 2.2% at 95% confidence (19/20X).

The findings have obvious impacts on go-forward retailer policies related to reusable bags.

Topline Findings

  • 55% of Canadians don’t wash their reusable bags.
  • 45% clean their bags occasionally; 39% rarely clean their bags.
  • 68% of Canadians claim they are aware unwashed bags can transmit of pathogens that can cause illness and cross contaminate their food.
  • 58% are aware that improperly stored bags based can collect mold, bacteria and viruses.
  • Canadians store bags in places that are likely to breed bacteria and mold. 29% store their reusable bags in a vehicle; 21% under the sink; 20% on the floor. Only 16% store the bags in a drawer and 14% hang them up to keep them off the floor.
  • 41% of reusable bag users use the bags to carry non-food items like running shoes, gym equipment or other items which poses a serious health risk.

The key point is that while Canadians may be aware of the possible health risk posed by reusable bags not properly maintained, they are not cleaning or storing their bags safely to protect themselves or their families from pathogens that can cause illness.