Tote Overload

Photo: Danny Kim

Once a niche conveyance option, reusable shopping bags have proliferated so greatly that ecoactivists are worried about surplus sacks winding up in landfills. (This would kind of defeat the point.) Meanwhile, Big Plastic is fighting back.

1. Year Zero for reusable bags was 1989: That’s when they were recommended in the best-selling 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth, and when Ecobags, one of the first U.S. companies to sell them, was founded in Washington Heights.

2. Not coincidentally, the reusablebag boom has paralleled the rise of organic grocery stores.

Revenues of California’s ChicoBag company
2005: $18,000
2007: $2.1 Million
2010: $5.5 Million

U.S. Whole Foods stores in:
2005: 175
Now: 311

16.6 Million
Number of reusable bags Whole Foods alone has sold since 2005

3. Reusable bags have also benefited as taxes and bans on plastic shopping bags have caught on.

Share of Washington, D.C., residents who increased reusable-bag use after the city imposed a $.05 tax on plastic bags in 2010.

4. This spring, three plastic bag companies sued ChicoBag for allegedly exaggerating its products’ environmental benefits, saying that its claims were “irreparably harming their business.” (Two of the companies dropped the lawsuit, and ChicoBag settled with the third.)

5. Researchers* have found that unwashed reusable bags breed bacteria.

12%: Share of reusable bags that carry E. coli, according to the study.

3%: Share of reusable-bag users who regularly clean their bags.

*The research was partly funded by a group affiliated with the plastics industry.

6. A trade group, the Reusable Bag Association, launched this year. One goal is to set durability standards to ensure that reusable bags are truly worthy of the name.

7. Concerned about her clients’ burgeoning reusable-bag collections, professional personal organizer Beth Zeigler staged a redistribution drive this month in L.A.

1, 900
unused reusable bags collected by Zeigler.

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