When Recycling Could Be A Health Hazard

July 5, 2010

We are being encouraged by the supermarkets to bring our own carrier bags – or be charged for them. This is a sound idea as we are all aware of the dangers that plastic bags cause by not being broken down when disposed of but, like much in life, it is not as straightforward as it seems. Years ago, when holidaying in Madeira, I was intrigued to see a washing line pegged out neatly with lots of carrier bags on it. I smiled to myself, thinking this was carrying diligent housework too far, but it seems they had the right idea.

New research from the University of Arizona shows that more than half of 84 reusable bags collected from shoppers in Tucson, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria, including E.coli, a bug found in fecal matter. Now before you throw your hands up in horror as if these bags have been used for storing dirty nappies, it seems that the major contamination occurs when liquid from raw meat or other food leaks onto the bag. The concern is that the fabric can then contaminate other food if you don’t wash the bag before its next use.

So do you give up recycling your bags? No, not according to Charles Gerba, a University of Arizona professor who says that the research was not intended to discourage people from using the bags but to make you aware of a possible problem. So follow a fine example and wash them through after each use and whatever you do please do not keep them stored in the boot of your car, as that is a hot breeding ground for germs in the summer.


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