Study Finds Unsafe Amounts of Lead In Reusable Bags Sold By Major Retailers

A new study published today by the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) based on testing done by Frontier Global Sciences in Seattle, found that many reusable bags sold by major U.S. retailers today contain unsafe amounts of lead.

The CCF advertises itself as a force against the “nanny-state,” and advocates for “consumer freedom.” They also appear to argue that food, beverage and restaurant businesses should be able to do, sell and give away whatever the heck they please, never mind the environmental or social consequences. Frontier Global Sciences is a privately held business that provides environmental sampling and analysis services.

Their study found:

“Of the 44 organizations whose bags were tested, 16 are selling or distributing reusable bags containing lead in amounts greater than 100 ppm (parts per million), which is where many states set the limit for heavy metals in packaging…

National chains such as CVS, Safeway, Bloom, and Walgreens were among those with high levels of lead found in their reusable bags. CVS and Safeway led the pack with 697 and 672 ppm respectively; both were nearly seven times the 100 ppm limit. To date, CVS is the only store that tested above 100 ppm to have recalled their bags. Previously lululemon athletica, Sears-Canada, and Wegmans have all recalled bags due to high levels of lead.

Retailers testing positive for excessive levels of lead included Staples, Giant Eagle, Piggly Wiggly, Giant, Gerbes, KTA Superstore, Brookshire Brothers, Stater Bros., and, ironically, the District of Columbia Department of Environment.”

In a press statement CCF senior research analyst J. Justin Wilson says “retailers were goaded into selling these bags” by environmentalists. He also suggests that banning stores from giving away, and enabling the pervasive consumption of disposable, non-biodegradable plastic bags inevitably results in stores selling cheap, unsafe reusable goods.

It’s hard to believe the bans on plastic bags — from China and Italy to multiple U.S. cities— are causing more harm than good, however.

Consider the magnitude of plastic, single-use bag waste in recent years: in Europe, an estimated 100 billion disposable plastic bags are used annually, according to the green blog Environmental Leader. Meanwhile, the San Jose Mercury News reports, in the U.S. only 13 percent of recyclable, non-biodegradable plastic bags actually get recycled each year.

Until tech and design innovators, or groups like PopTech’s Ecomaterials Innovation Lab and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition can devise a zero-impact single use bag, concerned shoppers with any environmental awareness should probably opt to bring their own, lead free reusables.

It’s even possible to make one out of old school plastic disposables, or buy one made of safe, and recycled materials from a specialty web store like or One Bag at a Time (hat tip: Ecosalon).