Today, the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) released findings from a new survey that found an overwhelming majority of Americans are not at all aware of the health concerns, such as excessive levels of lead and harmful bacteria, lurking in their fabric-like, polypropylene reusable bags. The national poll, commissioned by CCF and conducted by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC), also finds that 67% of reusable bag owners do not regularly wash their bags, allowing bacteria like E.coli and fecal coliform to grow inside.

The poll also found that 78% of those who use reusable bags on a regular basis, do so because they believe “they are better for the environment.” However, new findings from the Environment Agency of England show a reusable bag has to be used 11 times to have a lower global warming potential than a plastic bag if it is not reused. If a plastic bag is reused for household purposes like lining a trash can or cleaning up after the dog – as 93% of those polled claim they reuse their bags for – a polypropylene reusable bag would have to be reused 26 times to equal the low environmental impact of one plastic bag.

What the Environment Agency study doesn’t take into account are the amount of resources used when reusable bags are washed, which is vital to keeping the bags safe and clean. According to ORC’s polling, 53% of Americans are unaware of high levels of bacteria found in some reusable bags, which is probably why more than half of the people who do their grocery shopping with reusable bags do not regularly wash them. This is despite the fact that a recent study from the University of Arizona found that more than half of the bags tested came up positive for coliform, while 11 percent tested positive for E. coli.

“Americans have been goaded into using reusable bags by green activist groups and lawmakers with a belief that they are better for the environment and safer for consumers, but in reality it is much more complicated,” said J. Justin Wilson, CCF’s Senior Research Analyst. “Policies that would tax or ban plastic bags are just another example of politicians and activists hastily pushing feel-good measures that create a myriad of unintended consequences.”