When communities like San Francisco and Seattle began banning plastic bags, said Ramesh Ponnuru, it seemed like a public-spirited thing to do. But’ benign-seeming laws often have unintended consequences— and the plastic-bag ban is now producing a sickening result. The reusable shopping bags that people now use to bring groceries home turn out to be breeding grounds for bacteria carried by raw meat and unwashed vegetables.
Studies have found that half of reusable bags contain coliform bacteria from feces; if these bags are left in a warm car trunk for two hours, the number of bacteria grows tenfold. “Kind of gross,” no? After San Francisco banned plastic bags, another study by two law professors found, emergency-room admissions caused by E. coli infections began climbing; researchers estimate that the plastic ban leads to five additional deaths a year from food-borne illness. Regular washing and drying can clean out a reusable bag’s bacterial colonies, but it’s a habit many consumers simply don’t have. It’s a stomach-turning reminder that governments should “just let people make their own decisions.”