Shopping Bags May Contain Lead in Violation of State Laws; Overall Compliance Improving
Posted: 12/13/2012
DES MOINES – Vibrant solid-colored shopping bags are at risk for containing high concentrations of lead in violation of Iowa laws; however, overall compliance is improving.

The Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse (TPCH) screened 125 single-use shopping and mailing bags for the presence of lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium in the inks used to print or color the bags. These toxic metals are regulated in packaging by 19 U.S. states, including Iowa.

Only three bags failed the screening test for lead. However, each of the failing samples contained about 1 percent lead by weight of the bag. “This means that for every 100 pounds of these shopping bags, we’re introducing about 1 pound of lead into commerce,” according to Dr. Alex Stone of the State of Washington’s Department of Ecology.

“These bags ultimately end up in our incinerators, landfills or recycling streams. Lead is considered a persistent, bio-accumulative toxin. It’s a metal and isn’t destroyed, but only accumulates,” Stone added.  

Only one of the bags was marked with the country of origin, and in that case it was manufactured in the U.S. “It was a surprise to find a packaging sample manufactured in the U.S. that violated our state laws,” said Kathleen Hennings of the Iowa DNR. “In the past we’ve typically only found lead and cadmium in packaging manufactured overseas.” States are working with these companies to address the issues identified.

Overall, compliance has improved with state toxics in packaging laws. An earlier screening project by the TPCH released in 2007 showed almost 17 percent non-compliance for plastic shopping bags of a total of 60 samples screened. The clearinghouse included some retail brand shopping bags that failed in the 2007 project in the current screening. The results on these new bags indicated they were in compliance.

The TPCH uses x-ray fluorescence analysis to screen packaging routinely for regulated metals. Several studies during the past few years show that manufacturers and distributors must be vigilant about their packaging materials, particularly PVC packaging sourced from overseas.
Administered by the Northeast Recycling Council, Inc., the TPCH supports and helps states fulfill their packaging laws. Nineteen U.S. states have toxics in packaging requirements. Ten states, including Iowa, are clearinghouse members. The clearinghouse’s mission is to reduce the amount and toxicity of packaging at the source, before it enters the solid waste stream.

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