Food Safety: The Grocery Bag Dilemma

j0422831Buying "Green" is trendy. Food safety can sometimes get lost in the mix when discussing the disparity between what is truly "green" and what is simply fashionable.

A new report has just been released that at least some of our reusable grocery bags fabricated in China and sold at upscale market end-cap aisles are painted with lead paint.

Your particular bag may or may not have lead paint. When I read this article, the first thing I did was check my most recent purchase of a reusable bag that I purchased from Whole Foods a few days ago with a seasonable print on both the front and back.

The tag claimed "Ethically made in China," of Polyfabric recycle code 5 and is imported under the company ntake.com. In checking the website, there was no mention of lead-based inks, but that doesn't mean there aren't any. I'll still use the bag, but I'll certainly not purchase another.

This leads us something important to discuss: how much can we do, and why should we do it?

In our laissez-faire system, industry has the right to do as it sees fit; consumers are to make the choices that fit their needs and the two should never mix, right? The problem is with marketing. When items are marketed to a consumer group in trendy or fashionable manners, it's very difficult for the consumer to navigate what is truly better and what just seems better.

Truth is, the bag does put at least some tear-away plastic bags out of use as well as reduce the use of paper for bags. And these reductions are a real benefit. As plastic bags are so easy to escape consumer hands, they fly away at the source and from the landfills, but they have to go somewhere. One of those places is Plastic Island.  Manufacturing them in the first place pollutes the air which drips to sea and soil; regardless, either at sea or at land, eventually they degrade into either the water or the soil trailing a wake of byproducts that make their way into the food chain.

It's not much different for the manufacture of re-usable bags, so the most conscientious consumer won't consume at all and simply re-use what he already has on-hand. The simple answer is that we can't fix the world with a re-usable bag, but we can use the reusable bag as a stepping stone to a solution. We should do it  because it really is better than using plastic or paper bags. If the accountability of Chinese imports concerns a consumer, consider making your own bag out of other materials. We are a marble in a bubble, and the more often we remember this, the easier it is to see how our choices affect the entire system.  While it may not immediately connect, with just a little examination it becomes very clear that food safety and plastics go hand-in-hand.

Photo credit: © Royalty-Free/Corbis

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