Updated on 12/17/10
In response to reports of toxic lead being found in small concentrations in plastic reusable shopping bags sold at grocery stores, New York-based bag manufacturer Envi has gone on the offensive. The company claims that it works with a third-party lab to verify its products "meet all safety standards for lead and other toxins."
Specifically, tests conducted on Envi's bags turned up only 16.3 parts per million of lead in the plastic product, and no detectable amount of lead in the ink, according to Envi founder Sylvia Feldzamen.
The specific safety standards for lead in products are points of some debate at the moment. Recent tests of reusable bags found lead in them at 194 parts per million (ppm), which upset some shoppers and consumer advocates. Still, those bags were not recalled, because that level of lead is below the current 300 ppm government standard. However, that standard drops to 100 ppm of lead "in children's products" by August 2011, "if technologically feasible," according to the Consumer Product Safety Act of 2008. It is currently unclear whether reusable shopping bags will be legally classified as "children's products" or if more action will be taken, although Senator Chuck Schumer of New York has asked for investigations.
For her part, Feldzamen told TDG that she believes reusable bags should be held to the 100 ppm standard. "If we're concerned about making children's products so safe, shouldn't we be just as diligent about products we use?" she asked.
Some reusable bags were recently pulled from a Wegmen's store for lead found at 799 ppm, which is above even the previous standard of 600 ppm.
Envi is a division of Syfel, Inc., one of North America's largest reusable bag suppliers. Yes, Envi's bags are made in China, and the company maintains an office there, which it claims helps it oversee quality.
Envi founder Sylvia Feldzamen has also released this checklist she says anyone who carries reusable bags should use to work towards ensuring that the products don't contain lead. Check it out:
1.Validate vendor testing. Vendors should use an accredited third-party lab, and have the paperwork to prove it. In fact, retailers should add a line item to their vendor forms for testing references, requiring the names of labs used and copies of invoices to prove that the vendors themselves are doing the testing.
2.Inquire about other green practices. Is your vendor just in it for the revenues, or truly committed to environmental safety? Ask about other programs they offer, like Envis soon-to-be-launched retailer recycling initiatives.
3.Look into vendor history. Many vendors enter the reusable bag business overnight, or are promotional companies that carry hundreds of other products. These vendors are less likely to be vigilant about their reusable bag standards.
4.Understand safety testing practices. Testing should be ongoing, with both scheduled and unannounced checks. Ask for multiple certifications and reports to show compliance. One certificate isnt enough, and can be easily faked.
5.Get customer references. Call the vendors customers to make sure they havent had any problems. Ultimately, retailers must look beyond price alone, and find a reliable partner who can also deliver on quality, safety, timeliness, and more.
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