Excerpts from "Lead in Reusable Bags"
In yesterday's newsletter, we published an article about the recent controversy surrounding lead in reusable polypropylene bags, which I touched on last week.
Rick Brenner from Prime Line and Christopher Duffy from Bag Makers provided a lot of great insight and information. Due to time and space, there were some things I wasn't able to touch on in the article that could be of interest to you. Below, I've reprinted some of the questions and answers that didn't make it into the final article.
Promo Marketing: Can you explain the history leading up to this report?
Rick Brenner: Around 11/11-14/2010 a newspaper in Florida, The Tampa Tribune, published articles stating that they had commissioned tests of certain reusable grocery bags from the Winn-Dixie and Publix grocery store chains and found "elevated levels of lead in material of some bags."
The story was picked up by seemingly every news outlet in the country—if not the world—and spread very quickly. It even prompted the democratic U.S. Senator from New York, Charles Schumer, to call for a federal investigation involving CPSC, FDA, EPA among others. All of this publicity, as with the BPA controversy promulgated on the Today Show in 2008, caused the story to take on a life of its own replete with widespread misinformation and misunderstanding.
PM: How can lead enter into these bags?
RB: These bags are made of polypropylene. According to Dee Fenton, one of the executive directors of QCA, recycled plastics are ground up and shredded in giant machines. Over time the teeth and blades wear down and the residue from the teeth and blades ends up in the plastic. Shredded plastic is called “regrind” and Dee notes that regrind generally tests higher for lead and other heavy metals. Another source of lead in recycled plastic can be any lead that happens to be in the material that is being recycled. In addition, every component of a bag and its decoration is a potential entry point for lead. Some nonwoven bags are laminated so the laminate can contain lead. The thread, binding material, grommets, cords, zippers and any other components can contain lead. So can the dye and the inks and glues used in the decoration or appliqués.
Christopher Duffy: There are many avenues lead could make its way into a product, but it appears to most often occur at the early raw materials stages. More important to note, however, is that bag manufacturers are entirely capable of producing a bag that contain no lead, or other heavy metals, as a product component. In fact, two-thirds of the 49 bags tested by CCF were fully compliant with the law.
PM: Why do you think the CCF decided to release this information now?
CD: It’s wholly possible this is simply another attention-getting maneuver and I would surmise there is a likely hidden agenda. (It's true that CCF is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization but it's also true that they actively maintain the anonymity of their financial contributors). Twice in their story—including their secondary headline—CCF references the paper and plastic bag categories and the bans or taxes being imposed on those product segments. Clearly, these products have suffered in recent years and have something to gain with such a story. As a company that also sells paper and plastic bags, we’ve seen these specific products lose some market share to the reusable bag segment.
PM: Do you think these tests and reports are accurate?
RB: Accuracy of tests has become a key issue at CPSC since the YKK Group met with CPSC and disclosed that they had commissioned identical tests of identical items at multiple accredited labs and that the results were inconsistent. In one case, tests reported a range of 0 ppm to 331 ppm for an item known to contain 71 ppm lead. We have experienced similar discrepancies between our in-house tests and third party lab tests but those were mostly because of different testing methods employed.
That said, we have generally found that third party test results are normally comparable to our own internal tests and are reasonably reliable for the sample tested. We don’t find them to necessarily be a reliable predictor of subsequent production runs.
Kyle A. Richardson is the editorial director of Promo Marketing. He joined the company in 2006 brings more than a decade of publishing, marketing and media experience to the magazine. If you see him, buy him a drink.