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Medicine Science

Are Plastic Bag Bans Making People Sick? 533

theodp writes "A paper by Wharton's Jonathan Klick and Joshua Wright suggested that San Francisco's eco-friendly ban on plastic bags might actually be killing people. Klick and Wright found that food-borne illnesses in San Francisco increased 46% after the bag ban went into effect in 2007, with no such uptick in neighboring counties. Most likely, the authors concluded, this was due to the fact that people were putting their food into dirty reusable bags and not washing them afterward. But Tomas Aragon, an epidemiologist at UC Berkeley and health officer for the city of San Francisco, begs to differ, arguing that in order to establish a link between the bag ban and illnesses, the authors would have to show that the same people who are using reusable bags are also the ones getting sick. Aragon offers an alternative hypothesis for the recent rise in deaths related to intestinal infections, noting that a large portion of the cases in San Francisco involve C. difficile enterocolitis, a disease that's often coded as food-borne illness in hospitals which has become more common in lots of places since 2005, all around the U.S., Canada, and Europe (for yet-unexplained reasons). 'The increase in San Francisco,' he suggests, 'probably reflects this international increase.'"
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Are Plastic Bag Bans Making People Sick?

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  • by emil ( 695 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @10:52AM (#42935191)
    A "bag" of woven metal could take advantage of the oligodynamic effect []. Problem solved.
  • Re:That's funny.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @11:37AM (#42935655)

    Those things are about as dishwasher friendly as a cat with a scratching post. My question is why aren't they using paper bags? Those things are far better than any reusable bag I've ever had. On the plus side, they're multipurpose as well as 100/% recyclable.

    Most supermarkets round here (and most in Europe) have two kinds of reusable bag -- one that's sold for between 10-50p (depending on taxes), and is essentially a thicker plastic bag with better handles, like one you might get from a luxury clothes shop.

    The other kind is £1 or more, and made from some kind of durable plastic sheeting. It's not possible to screw these up into a ball, and they last pretty much forever.

    (Paper bags, if used only once, can be worse for the environment as they're heavier, so the transport cost is greater.)

  • Re:That's funny.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Plasmoid2000ad ( 1004859 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @11:41AM (#42935705) [],13565,en.pdf [] Shows a rise in C Diff in the last 2 years, but long after introduction of plastic bag levy. Also shows that most cases are still sourced as Hospital based infections. Seriously... both are the first links on a Google search. Lack of sources is hardly a defense for you snarky comment and bout of laziness.
  • by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @12:01PM (#42935891) Journal
    State officials in California have asked municipalities to reduce their storm drain waste by 40%. Whatever the solution to that would end up being, it would be expensive, if not impossible. How do you prevent 40% of the waste in your storm drains, which are publicly accessible all over town? The requirement wasn't to reduce waste to a certain level... it was to reduce it by 40% below what it already is... so if your numbers are already good, you have to make them that much better. It's chasing after a rainbow.

    So the state gave the municipalities a loophole []: you don't have to reduce your storm drain waste by 40% (or at all) if you institute a plastic bag ban. No questions asked. The municipalities get to avoid costly Environmental Impact Reports, and they get to tell their residents "look! We're doing something for the environment," so they're passing these bans with little or no discussion. So now you have just as much waste in the storm drains, restaurants and other places that have been given a pass are still handing out plastic bags all day long, and stores that weren't given a pass are either giving out thicker plastic bags with handles that are labelled as "reusable" or selling people paper bags for 10 cents. You don't see people walking into stores with these thicker bags or the paper bags, so that means they're being thrown out anyway, and they have more mass than the "banned" bags, so we really haven't reduced waste at all... we've made it worse.
  • Re:That's funny.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BlueStrat ( 756137 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @12:55PM (#42936383)

    I don't think you apprehend the scale of the problem. []

    I don't think you comprehend what that word means.

    You also fail to take into account that many people are perfectly fine with plastics in the environment. []

    Who's to say that Carlin is wrong in his basic premises explained in the video?


  • Re:That's funny.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @01:38PM (#42936851)

    Of course, let's add to the federal deficit some more by funding another useless study. Never mind that it makes perfect sense that reusable bags could harbor and spread of germs. The fact that in neighboring counties there is no jump in disease, where there is no plastic bag prohibition, is indicative that there is truth to this germ spreading allegation of reusable shopping bags. Common sense will tell most people that, but then common sense isn't all that common anymore.

    But in Europe, where reusable bags are in use, there has also been an increase in C.difficle enterocolitis. The facts in this case are a 46% jump in food born disease, which has been fatal in infants and the elderly. What hasn't been established and only hypothesized is the source of contamination is reusable bags. It is the 46% jump in the disease that warrants the study as it is a health concern. As part of that study, one would look at the source of transmission.

    As the epidemiologists have been saying without a proper study you cannot point to the bags as the source of contamination nor can you rule them out. Common sense would tell most people that, too.

  • Re:That's funny.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @03:28PM (#42938013) Homepage Journal

    My question is why aren't they using paper bags? Those things are far better than any reusable bag I've ever had. On the plus side, they're multipurpose as well as 100/% recyclable.

    Because the environuts who passed these laws managed simultaneously mandated a 10 cent per bag charge for paper bags, thus ensuring that everyone will use their reusable bags for everything, whether it makes sense or not. And no, the availability of the free plastic bags for fresh vegetables is not a solution. There aren't usually free bags at the meat counter, which means everything else you carry is going to get contaminated if you buy meat. And even if they have bags, those bags don't have handles, which means that you're still handling contaminated meat and then touching a reusable bag's handle.

    Of course, for those of us who, prior to the ban, routinely refused bags that we didn't need and reused the plastic bags we did get as trash bags, these new laws basically amount to a flat tax on living in the affected cities. We now have to buy plastic bags to replace the bags that we used to get for free. And because the bags you buy are much heavier than the bags they replaced, these laws actually represent a net increase in petroleum consumption for me.

    Plastic bag bans are pretty much net negatives, as far as I can tell. The only benefit is a reduction in litter from plastic bags blowing around, and that problem is mostly caused by garbage pickup people who don't care about all the bits they leave behind. They could have solved the same problem by driving along behind the garbage trucks for a week and fining them every time they failed to pick up trash that fell out of the cans, and our neighborhoods would have been significantly cleaner for it. Instead, they attacked the problem by punishing the users. It clearly falls on the other side of my bats**t crazy line as far as laws go, and I strongly encourage any communities thinking about such laws to reconsider.

  • Re:Bathing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <> on Monday February 18, 2013 @04:29PM (#42938485) Homepage

    San Fran has a fairly low incidence of people bathing regularly.

    At least that's what my nose told me the last time I was there.

    Well joking aside, something that people are forgetting is that California and their wonderful love of all things organic and of course there are plenty of idiots who do organic gardening with unpurified human waste. So cross contamination would be very easy to pick up that way, I seem to remember that there was a huge outbreak of e.coli in europe regarding brussel sprouts a few years back linked to exactly that.

    When you get contamination into a plastic bag that's not cleaned, or sterilized, you're cross contaminating everything else you put in there as well. The ministry of health here in Ontario put out a similar warning after a small outbreak. I think it was 15 or 25 ill linked to a reusable bag and a dinner party, I'll have to see if I can find the release on it. It was back 6ish years ago.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire