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Lead in Shopping Bags

In light of the recent artcle in the New York Times regarding lead content found in cheap reusable shopping bags, we would like to address some common concerns and dispel rumors and misconceptions.

A brief summary of the issue:

  • • An investigation conducted by the Tampa Tribune found high levels of lead in a handful of cheap reusable bags. The results of the investigation indicate that bags with elaborate illustrations and graphics had the highest levels of lead, due to the paints or inks used.
  • • Another report from the CCF found unsafe levels of lead in 16 other low-quality reusable bags. 
  • • This report has generated massive media coverage, fueling lots of misconceptions regarding the safety of reusable bags in general, especially those made in China.
  • • This issue comes down to the problems inherent in cheap reusable shopping bags, which we’ve been bringing to light for years.

Quick facts:

  • • We have never carried the types of bags referred to in this report (cheap reusable bags with printing on them).
  • • Just because a bag is “Made in China” does not mean it contains lead or is in anyway unsafe. Many reputable brands we carry (including Envirosax, Flip & Tumble, BAGGU, Chicobags and our reuseit line) manufacture bags in China using high-quality, safe materials.
  • • At, you’ll find safe, high-quality bags from trusted manufacturers. If you’ve purchased bags from us, you don’t have anything to worry about.

I’ve heard reusable bags contain lead – is this true?

According to the Tampa Trib, and several other newspapers that ran with the story, a handful of reusable bags from Winn-Dixie, Publix and other grocery stores tested positive for levels of lead exceeding federal limits for paint.

The study found unsafe levels of lead in cheaply-made, heavily printed bags, not all reusable bags.

How do I know if I own one of the bags from this study?

Please note that we have never carried any of those bags in our store.

Do all bags made in China contain lead?

No. The bags in this story were made in China, but that doesn’t mean all Chinese-made bags contain lead. In fact, we carry bags from many reputable companies including Envirosax, Flip & Tumble, ChicoBags and reuseit® that manufacture safely and ethically in China and other counties.

How can I be sure the bags I buy are safe?

Be selective! Buy from a trusted source that can provide you with details about the materials and the manufacturer of each reusable bag. Our product pages provide a wealth of information because we invest a great deal of time researching our vendors and the materials they use. We hold our products to the highest standards, carrying a wide array of lead-free natural fiber bags and bluesign-certified synthetics.  

According to the Tampa Tribune, you should also avoid bags with elaborate illustrations or large photographs. In their tests, the bags with the lowest lead content had almost no artwork.

What are some safe alternatives to those in this study?

We stand behind all of the bags we carry, made from both natural and synthetic fibers. If you’re looking for the most basic, natural reusable bags on the market we recommend hemp or cotton.

I want to avoid any bags made in China, what can I do?

We’re proud to offer several options to customers looking to avoid buying items manufactured in China. Our Made in the USA section is a good place to start. You can also filter items by the country in which they were manufactured on the left hand side of category pages.I own bags that were found to contain lead, what do I do with them?

I own these bags, what do I do?

If you would like to keep using them, hand wash your bags and dry them in open air. Otherwise, return the bag to the store where you purchased it and ask for a refund.

I used a home test lead kit and my bag tested positive - what now?

Just because a bag does test positive with a home test kit, it does not mean that the bag is necessarily unsafe.

These tests are extremely sensitive - indicating lead levels down to .001 ppm (parts per million), or 0.00015% of the legal limit set for lead paint in children's products (which is set at 600 ppm). This legal limit of 600 ppm was the benchmark used for the warnings issued by the CEH.

Unfortunately, these basic lead home test kit tests simply can't tell you how much lead is present if you do get a positive test result. We agree with the Center for Environmental Health's recommendations to err on the side of caution and get rid of bags that test positive and move to safe, lead-free alternatives.

How can I make sense of the numbers & put them in perspective?

  • • Home lead test kits will give a positive result if lead levels as low as .001-.002 ppm (parts per million) are detected.  
  • • The legal limit for lead paint in children's products is 600 ppm.  
  • • It's estimated that the daily intake of lead from our diet and environment is .02 ppm (see below).

How do I make sense of ppm (parts per million) & milligrams?

This can be really confusing. To help make sense of this: 1 microgram = .001 ppm. Continue reading for a more in depth explanation.

What are some common sources of lead & how does it enter the body?

Lead is a part of our world, found in everything from paint, dust, soil, food and water. It occurs naturally in the earth's crust, and human activities such as burning fossil fuels, mining, and manufacturing have spread it throughout the environment, including our homes and workplaces.

It can enter the body through ingestion, inhalation, dermal (skin) absorption, and in utero exposure. Small children are most commonly exposed to lead by eating lead-based paint chips, chewing on objects painted with lead-based paint, or swallowing house dust or soil that contains lead.

Putting the above into perspective, most of the lead we take in comes from our diet, and this lead is safely removed by the body: "The average daily diet probably contains more than 200 micrograms of lead, of which about 10 gets into the blood, where it is joined by about 5 micrograms of lead from our lungs (depending upon where we live), so that our daily intake probably comes to about 15 micrograms and the body can easily rid itself of such an amount..." states Dr. John Emsley, chemist and former science writer at Cambridge University.

How can families reduce the risk of exposure to lead?

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), on average, children under six will absorb/retain about 50% of the lead they ingest. That percentage can be reduced through good nutrition, including adequate levels of calcium, iron, vitamin C, and zinc. In addition, since lead has been shown to cause developmental problems in young children at very low levels, it makes sense to become educated on where lead can come from, and eliminate all controllable sources of lead exposure whenever possible.

This would include testing and removing lead paint at home (homes built before 1978 are at higher risk), running the water for 15 to 30 seconds before drinking or cooking (older homes may have plumbing with lead or lead solder), regular hand and face washing, and regularly cleaning the house of dust and tracked in soil. Read further for a more detailed overview.

Additional information on lead exposure:

Our previous coverage of lead & cheap reusables:

If you have any additional questions or concerns, contact us at service@

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