The Great Reusable Bag Scare

Reusable shopping bags have long been touted as the symbol of green living—eschewing wasteful, planet-harming plastic bags for an eco-friendly alternative. But in November The Tampa Tribune published a disturbing report on high concentrations of lead found in many major retailers’ reusable bags. A massive media storm erupted when the lining of a bag sold at CVS was found to have a lead count of 697 parts per million, almost seven times more than the allowable limit. Such a bag would not even legally be allowed to be sent into a local dump without special clearance—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires that any product with lead content above 100 parts per million be tested before being disposed of in a landfill.

Sears, Wegmans, Brooks Brothers, athletic retailer Lululemon and CVS all responded with recalls. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York called for an immediate federal investigation. “If we can get rid of the lead in these bags now, the danger to people is negligible or nonexistent,” Schumer said in a press conference.

Frightened, many consumers wondered whether they should go back to choosing plastic in the grocery aisle. Fortunately, the wide variety of safe reusable bags available in today’s market makes that unnecessary. Online eco-friendly retailers like, and ChicoBag all ensure and guarantee that their bags are 100% lead-free. And Stop & Shop, Whole Foods and Walgreens are among the many major retailers who now insist that they test their bags regularly and stand by their safety.

Considering most of the bags found with high levels of lead were made in China of non-woven polypropylene, Charles Margulis, spokesperson for the Center for Environmental Health, opts for simply using cloth bags. “They last longer and are easy to wash,” he says.