Canadian Packaging

Plastic Fantastic Lover


June 18, 2009
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor

Recently, the media was awash with reports of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) warning that the fabric grocery bags designed to replace plastic bags are a health disaster waiting to happen—but was it enough to make consumers switch back to plastic?

The CPIA noted that if the fabric grocery bags are not washed properly it can become contaminated with nasty fungi or bacteria that could make your yogurt go bad—I made that up about the yogurt. The CPIA says it had 24 fabric grocery bags tested at two individual labs finding that many of them contained mold, yeast and bacteria, including one with intestinal fecal bacteria.

Now I’m no scientist, but mold, yeast and bacteria, including intestinal fecal matter sound like ingredients in cheese, bread and yogurt, and er… whatever product uses intestinal fecal bacteria. Blech. Anyhow, it sounds pretty nasty, and I don’t want bread or cheese getting on my ham.

Toronto Councillor Gord Perks counters that the CPIA’s concerns are ill-founded, that because we live in a biological world where we have to learn to cope, people wash things.

Now maybe I’m not your average citizen, but in the two years my family has used the fabric bags—CPIA be brave—and plastic grocery bins, I’ve not washed them. I doubt that most of you have either—but I’ll wait while you rush out and wash a bin or do a load of laundry.

Look to the right under Related Coverage to weigh in on the subject.

As an aside, I have used and repeatedly washed my fabric lunch bag—I was involved in creation of it for the Ontario Ministry of Environment & Energy back in the early 1990s BBR (before Bob Rae).

By the way, it turns out that the fabric bag that the CPIA had tested that contained the intestinal fecal matter was once used to hold someone’s dirty diaper, and was therefore not directly related to the transportation of food products. It seems that someone was playing dirty poo-l.

If the CPIA’s only reason for funding these tests is to get people back to using plastic bags through our fear of infection with H1N1 (swine flu) in the news, then it’s probably not a great plan. It’s still does nothing to alleviate the public’s fear of plastic as environmentally criminal—and that’s where the CPIA should focus its spin-doctoring.

Perhaps someone could tell me what the environmental cost is to manufacture the fabric grocery bags—some, not all, are coated with a vinyl-like or plastic-ish material. Does it match or exceed the environmental impact of an equal number (by holding capacity) of plastic bags? If so, then fabric bags are like hybrid cars—a green-wash idea that doesn’t change the ecological balance as the majority of electricity in North America is created via coal burning electric plants but having an electric car makes us all feel better.

CPIA’s health concerns regarding the fabric bags seem pretty valid to me—as I generally do the laundry at my house, keeping all of my pink shirts and pants nice and clean—but all the CPIA has succeeded in doing is to tell the public that it needs to wash its fabric bags, not that plastic is the better product.

So… thanks for the warning CPIA.

Somewhere folding laundry,
Andrew Joseph

PS: Check Out The Related Coverage Link Above if you’d like to know the origin of this editorial’s headline.