Environmental concerns have spurred plastic bag bans or fees in US cities ranging from Los Angeles to Washington—but these measures come with "unintended consequences" that "can be, among other things, kind of gross," writes Ramesh Ponnuru at Bloomberg. It seems that reusable shopping bags can carry some rather unpleasant germs; one reportedly "caused an outbreak of norovirus-induced diarrhea and nausea that struck nine of 13 members of a girls’ soccer team," according to the Los Angeles Times.
Indeed, researchers found that 51% of reusable bags in a 2011 study were infested with coliform bacteria. And while washing bags gets rid of most of the germs, some 97% of people said they never do so. Another study showed that E. coli-related ER visits increased in San Francisco following the ban, while deaths from food-borne diseases jumped 46%. Given that washing the bags "doesn't appear likely to happen," Ponnuru notes, "the best course for government ... is probably to encourage people to recycle their plastic bags—or, maybe, just let people make their own decisions." Click for Ponnuru's full column.