Reusable shopping bags, usually made from canvas or a similar type of heavy cloth, are gaining in popularity as more and more people become concerned with the environment. There are plenty of reasons to opt for the cloth and canvas bags; they don’t require the destruction of trees, and unlike plastic bags, they won’t sit in a landfill for 10,000 years. Unfortunately, there are disadvantages associated with using these bags.
First, there’s the matter of expense. A well-constructed canvas shopping bag can range from $15.00 to $30.00, with some “designer” shopping bags costing even more. This might not be a problem if you’re just running to the store for a few items, but if you plan on doing a lot of shopping, you’re going to need a lot of bags. For most people, the prospect of lugging $100.00 worth of canvas into the grocery store is ludicrous.
Second is the fact that the environmental benefits are questionable. Canvas is a material made from cotton or hemp, and the farming methods used to cultivate these crops involve the use of herbicides which can pollute water supplies and poison animals. There is also a lot of water used to grow cotton and hemp, which is a serious consideration because several areas of the world are suffering from a shortage of fresh water.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is that growing evidence that claims that reusable cloth or canvas shopping bags are breeding grounds for bacteria. Several laboratories have examined the cleanliness of reusable shopping bags and the results are shocking. A study that took place in Denver earlier this year found that the bottoms of canvas shopping bags contained an overwhelming amount of bacteria as well as mold and yeast. The infectious disease expert who examined the bags, Dr. Michelle Barron of the University of Colorado Hospital described the bacteria levels by saying, “We’re talking in the million range of bacteria.” She also described some of the possible effects from contact with the bacteria that was found inside the shopping bags. “You can have a terrible diarrhea, stomach ache, vomiting. Not a fun thing to have,” said Dr. Barron.
Even though using cloth or canvas shopping bags eases the guilt of environmental devastation, the evidence shows that reusable shopping bags may ultimately result in more harm than good; not only to the environment, but to our own health as well.