Today, the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) criticized Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach’s (D-Montgomery/Delaware) proposed legislation, SB 590, that would place a two-cent tax on plastic bags provided to consumers by retailers. If passed, the tax will likely drive Pennsylvania consumers to purchase cheap, fabric-like reusable bags that can contain excessive levels of lead and breed bacteria.

Some reusable shopping bags sold or given away by stores throughout North America contain excessive lead levels above what is allowable by many state laws. Just recently, companies like Sears-Canada, CVS, and lululemon athletica recalled their reusable bags due to elevated lead levels. A newly released study ofreusable bags commissioned by CCF found that 16 out of the 44 organizations with bags tested 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. CVS and Safeway led the pack with 697 and 672 ppm respectively; both were nearly seven times the 100 ppm limit.

According to a recent Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) poll, 56% of Americans are not “at all aware” that their reusable grocery bags may contain lead and bacteria, which explains why—according to the same poll—68% of reusable bag owners have either never washed their bag or only washed it once in the last year.

Though lawmakers suggest these bag fees will have a positive impact on the environment, ORC polling shows only two out of five consumers reuse their bag “most” or “all” of the time. Often, consumers will purchase more reusable bags (which have 28 times the carbon footprint of plastic bags) to replace forgotten bags at home. 

“Attempting to demonize or tax plastic bags—as Senator Leach is proposing—is a perfect example of knee-jerk, feel-good regulation that brings with it a myriad of unintended consequences,” said CCF Senior Research Analyst J. Justin Wilson. “Politicians often respond to activist-driven junk science by banningor taxing products without giving any thought to what people will use instead. Now, recent research demonstrates that some of these bags contain lead and can be a breeding ground for bacteria. In the end, the new alternative can end up being worse than its replacement.”