Bag some patience

Danger, danger?

Danger, danger?

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

Is it better to have love and lost, or never to have loved at all? Or, put another way, when you see a big ol’ environmental problem, is it better to take a stab at solving the problem and, falling short, try, try again? Or is it better to sit on your hands until the perfect solution presents itself? Time and again, the best intentions have unintentional consequences. What’s an eco-citizen to do?

Consider recyclable plastic bags. As consumers get wiser, the paper grocery bag is more and more rare, and the flimsy plastic bags are actually being legislated against by some municipalities. It took Auntie Ruth a while to get in the habit of throwing the reusable bags in the backseat of the car and then bringing them into the grocery store, but now it’s more routine than accident—and ain’t that the way of change?

But you may recall back in November, the story took another turn: The Tampa Tribune in Florida purchased two dozen reusable bags from the largest grocery stores in their region and paid for two rounds of tests. The results? “Grocery chain Winn-Dixie sells a reusable grocery bag with pictures of cute baby faces and enough toxic lead that Hillsborough County could consider the bag hazardous if thrown out with household trash.” The lead leeches out as the bag ages.

While the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission will allow only 100 parts per million of lead in children’s products, the baby-face bag from Winn-Dixie showed 121 parts per million. It gets worse: A bag sold at CVS was found to have a lead count of 697 parts per million, according to E Magazine. CVS responded with a recall. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York has called for a federal investigation.

Auntie Ruth walked into her local CVS store, asked the checkout clerk if he’d heard about the recall. He had not. Not a big deal—sometimes the front-line workers aren’t in all the loops. Elsewhere, among the regional food co-ops, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op has long sold a beautiful cloth bag; Davis Food Co-op does sell a “nonwoven polypropylene” bag, but in an online blog states: “Based on information from our suppliers, testing data and formulation analysis, these reusable bags and ink do not contain lead.”

One step forward, two steps back? Patience, Auntie Ruth suggests. Patience.