San Francisco has been at the global forefront in the ban on the use of non-compostable plastic bags. The ban was gradually phased into effect, and became fully enforced in 2012. Retailers can sell sturdier, easier to recycle, compostable bags and their paper counterparts for 10 cents each.
The ban against plastic bags has led to a major public shift toward using reusable tote bags to transport groceries. However, most people are not aware of the potential health issues that result from unsanitary bags, and they often forget to wash their totes. This greatly increases the possibility of food contamination.
San Francisco hospital emergency rooms have seen a major spike in the number of patients treated for E. coli infections. Deaths linked to foodborne illnesses increased by a staggering 46% in the first three months of the plastic bag ban.
Ironically, plastic bags were banned to reduce the harmful environmental effects of the non- biodegradable material that often ends up in landfills, but the cost of the public health issues due to E. coli has overshadowed the budgetary savings of the ban.
Environmentalists are condemning the study and are concerned about it causing great damage to public perception, leading to cynicism toward using reusable bags for shopping. Most agree that making the public aware of the necessity of caring for bags, much the same way people care for clothes, is the key to reducing food contamination.
Environmentalists also want people to understand that between remembering to use and wash tote bags and contributing to environmental catastrophe with plastic bags, the tote bags are a much smarter solution.