Recently, a number of municipalities have enacted ordinances to prohibit or to make more expensive the use of plastic and paper shopping bags. The ordinances are based on the bags' lack of environmental friendliness-- plastic bags, for instance, are difficult to recycle.
As shoppers have been driven to reusable bags, however, a new problem has developed. Unless the reusable bags are carefully cleaned between uses, the bags can become contaminated and cause disease.
For example, the Associated Press reports the story of seven teenage girls on a soccer team which travelled from Oregon to Seattle for a match. While in Seattle, the girls ate cookies from a reusable bag and contracted "norovirus", a germ often spread from leafy greens, fresh fruits or shellfish. In this case, one or more of these foods had contaminated the bag, which had not been cleaned before reuse.
The virus can cause diarrhea, vomiting and cramps. In severe cases, the virus can cause death. Fortunately, it appears that the 7 girls who got sick recovered.
Government entities that have enacted ordinances eliminating or restricting the use of paper and plastic bags may need to evaluate whether the government can run an effective campaign to educate people about the dangers of unclean, or improperly cleaned, reusable bags.
From my column, "Legal News You Can Use", published inm the Valley News Group (San Fernando Valley California) newspapers.