Lead in Recyclable Shopping Bags Raises Concerns

Published November 27, 2010

First to go was plastic. Second, paper. Now, recyclable shopping bags have come under fire and select stores from New York to Florida have banned or are considering banning their use or sale, in response to concerns about lead levels in the material used to make the bags.

Supermarkets Pull Bags
Paper and plastic grocery bags are banned or taxed in retail shops across the nation, from Washington, DC to various cities and towns in California, for a variety of asserted environmental reasons. Recyclables were supposed to be the solution, but now even these bags are under attack amid concerns lead on the material may rub onto consumers’ food and cause health problems.

In September, the Wegman’s supermarket chain pulled some of its recyclable shopping bags from shelves after consumer group tests found lead content levels they considered alarming. In mid-November, the Long Island-based King Kullen supermarket chain pulled reusable shopping bags from their shelves too. At the same time, Publix supermarkets in Florida, reacting to public concerns and questions about lead content, asked suppliers to look for ways to use less lead in manufacturing the bags.

“The U.S. Department of Consumer Safety recognizes 300 part per million of lead an acceptable level for children’s toys,” said Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for Publix Super Markets, Inc. “The reusable bag in question is not a Publix private label reusable bag but rather a college reusable bag made of polypropylene. This one bag tested at 194 ppm, well under the recognized 300 ppm. We have not issued a recall on the bag; however, if a customer wishes to return the bag for an exchange or refund, we will gladly accommodate their request.”

Publix continues to offer their own store’s private-label, cloth, reusable bag at all chain stores, Brous said. The polypropylene bag is available only in two dozen Publix stores in the Tampa area, she added.

Schumer Calls for Investigation
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) seized on the issue and requested a federal investigation.

“I’m calling on the FDA, working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the EPA, to immediately ban any of these bags that have elevated levels of lead,” Schumer said in a statement to CBS New York.

Schumer also expressed concern that many of the bags are manufactured in China, where content and safety regulations are less stringent than those in the United States.

“Many of these popular bags are manufactured in China and sold to grocery stores, who then sell them to customers,” Schumer said, in a written statement on his senate Web site. “While there may be no immediate danger to human health, food products come into direct contact with these bags and long-term exposure can pose serious health and environmental risks.”

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) writes from northern Virginia.