Like most residents in this swamp-by-the-Potomac, three years ago I began toting my groceries in a reusable cloth bag, rather than paying five cents for each "single-use" plastic bag from the checkout stand.
Make that "grosseries". Not long after, it became obvious that my bag, a freebie from the National Book Festival, was a mini-compost pile, with a pretty obvious lining of various meat and vegetable sleazes. Like 97% of people who are coerced into BOYB (the last B being "bag"), I don't think to drop them in the wash on Saturday.
The whole bag business is being sold in DC as "skip the bag, save the River", meaning mainly the lazy Anacostia, whose minuscule grade can't generate enough velocity to flush plastic bags into the Potomac. So, instead of enforcing anti-litter laws (the ubiquitous "$250 fine TO LITTER" signs in North Carolina come to mind), we tax and sicken.
In 2006, five people died from ingesting spinach contaminated with Escherichia coli, so the FDA up and banned its sale. Nationally. Where's the FDA on E. coli-contaminated reusable bags?
If the FDA was so chary about spinach, a similar response to a 2010 study published by the Loma Linda University School of Public Health should have prompted an outright ban on reusable bags at grocery stores.
Researchers Charles Gerba and two colleagues found that a full 12 per cent of reusable bags randomly sampled from shoppers in California and Arizona were contaminated with E. coli. Further, other coliform bacteria, perfectly capable of causing a nasty infection—especially among the immunocompromised that disproportionately live in urban areas like Washington—were found in half of the bags sampled.
Then there's the problem of cross-contamination. Who hasn't put a sleazy reusable on the cutting board while unloading groceries? Chances are there's enough nutrients, particularly on a wooden one, to multiply a large number of generations of bacteria to give a really nice case of gastroenteritis, erroneously known as the stomach flu.
The morbidity and mortality from gastroenteritis has jumped phenomenally in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control, associated deaths rose from 7,000 to 17,000 between 1999 and 2007. 800 of those were from the infamous Norwalk Virus, so contagious that turns entire cruise vessels into floating vomitoria. The rest were largely bacterial in origin. There's no figure on how many have been caused by reusable shopping bags, but it's more than five. BTW, 17 members of an Oregon soccer team got Norwalk from a reusable bag last year. Haloooo, FDA???
Reusable bags are not just used to tote food, and rarely are meat and vegetables separated (meat being an especially good medium for bacterial growth). Every time you set one down at the checkout stand, chances are you are leaving some critters behind for the next bag to pick up. It's enough to make you sick!
In fact, just last month the Centers for Disease Control issued an advisory recommending the regular laundering of reusable grocery bags. To see how well that's working out, take a trip to the local Safeway and behold all the dirty sacks.
The District of Columbia claims to have bagged 1.6 million in revenue last year, although they haven't released any figures for enforcement or overhead costs at the store. Whatever money there is goes to clean up the fetid Anacostia.
The whole bag issue smacks of punishing the grade school class because of two punks. They just don't magically appear in the Anacostia; someone has to drop them. Last year, the City Council passed a law empowering the police to issue $75 fines that the cops say they will enforce for even dropping a gum wrapper.
Talk's cheap. There's plenty of gum wrappers on the street in my trendy Adams-Morgan ‘hood, as well as plastic shopping bags and occasional condoms. I haven't seen one littering arrest, though.
So, if there are so many bags choking the Anacostia, why don't DC's Finest just amble on down and start generating revenue? No, instead we are coerced into carrying portable petri dishes, spreading bacteria, and no doubt, some sickness and death.