Your eco-friendly, reusable shopping bag may be loaded with lead

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) yesterday called on federal agencies to police reusable shopping bags that contain unacceptably high levels of lead, getting out ahead of a story that’s been developing for some time.

Back in September, Wegmans, an East Coast supermarket chain, recalled two reusable shopping bags after its tests confirmed findings of a consumer activist group, the Empire State Consumer Project, that the bags contained lead at levels above New York State limits. The bags do not pose an immediate food-contamination risk, but they do exceed the stringent standards for imported toys set by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in 2008. They can also be an environmental hazard when not disposed of properly.

According to Bloomberg, Wegmans had not been aware of New York regulations covering the bags and is revising its standards. In fact, New York is one of 19 states with laws setting limits on toxic metals in packaging, laws that generally apply to any company that sells or distributes packaging, packaging components or packaged products. The Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse (TPCH) offers a model law and keeps track of the states that have legislated restrictions.

As Sen. Schumer notes, the Wegmans bags were made in China. But, while China is the leading source for imported non-woven polypropylene bags of the type recall by the grocer, not all bags are sourced from China. Nor is the lead threat limited to shopping bags. In its 2009 Assessment of Heavy Metals in Packaging, the TPCH tested 409 flexible PVC packaging samples, including 85 shopping bags. High lead counts were found in 19 samples, including 5 shopping bags (source unknown), and the ink on 3 produce/grocery packages (from Honduras, Vietnam and Colombia).

TPCH recommends that companies request certificates of compliance from suppliers and build toxics restrictions into their purchasing specifications. Of course, the original supplier may be several intermediaries away in the supply chain – that’s where Datamyne can help with trade data that identifies the origins of products manufactured overseas as well as their U.S. importers.

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