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Last week, I ran two posts about the merits of disposable plastic bags:

The one positive out of coronavirus: disposable plastic makes a comeback

Why tote bags are not necessarily better for our health or the environment

Many people think that a return to paper bags is better for the environment, however, few know just how polluting paper production is.

In some ways, paper is worse for the environment than disposable plastic.

HowStuffWorks has a great post, ‘Paper Versus Plastic: Environmental Disadvantages of Each’, an excerpt from which follows. Bold emphases are in the original; those in purple are mine:

  • Causes pollution: Paper production emits air pollution, specifically 70 percent more pollution than the production of plastic bags [source: Thompson]. According to certain studies, manufacturing paper emits 80 percent more greenhouse gases [source: Lilienfield]. And, consider that making paper uses trees that, instead, could be absorbing carbon dioxide. The paper bag making process also results in 50 times more water pollutants than making plastic bags [source: Thompson].
  • Consumes energy: Even though petroleum goes into making plastic, it turns out that making a paper bag consumes four times as much energy as making a plastic bag, meaning making paper consumes a good deal of fuel [source:].
  • Consumes water: The production of paper bags uses three times the amount of water it takes to make plastic bags [source: Lilienfield].
  • Inefficient recycling: The process of recycling paper can be inefficient — often consuming more fuel than it would take to make a new bag [source: Milstein]. In addition, it takes about 91 percent more energy to recycle a pound of paper than a pound of plastic [source:].
  • Produces waste: According to some measures, paper bags generate 80 percent more solid waste [source: Lilienfield].
  • Biodegrading difficulties: Surprisingly, the EPA has stated that in landfills, paper doesn’t degrade all that much faster than plastics [source: Lilienfield].

On the last point, ReuseThisBag — a pro-tote bag site — explains (emphases mine):

  • It doesn’t break down any faster than plastic in landfills. That’s because, while paper breaks down much faster under ideal conditions, landfills are not ideal conditions. The lack of light, air and oxygen means pretty much nothing decomposes, so paper and plastic are destined to spend equal amounts of time there.
  • Paper bags are bigger than plastic, which means they take up more space in landfills. They’re recycled at a higher rate, which mitigates that fact, but that still means they still have a greater per-bag impact on landfills.

Shipping paper is also more expensive:

  • Paper bags are very thick, so shipping them costs more fuel per bag.

Therefore, out of paper, tote or disposable plastic bags, the plastic bags seem to be the best option. Of course, we know the disadvantages of plastic, but, if we are responsible in disposing of them, there is no problem.

I have a collection of plastic bags, because at some point, post-coronavirus, they might be difficult to get in shops.

They have their purpose on this planet. I reuse mine for all sorts of things before discarding them.

In closing, last year, while I was out in the front garden, a dog walker with three canines in tow, asked me if I had any spare plastic bags. The dogs had eaten something they should not have, and she’d run out of waste bags.

I gave her three or four disposable plastic bags, which made the rest of her walk that much easier and our neighbourhood that much cleaner.

Yesterday, I made a case for plastic carrier bags.

Shops in England were supposed to stop using single-use bags earlier this year and switch to paper. However, coronavirus has put paid to that because … getting a new plastic bag from the shop has next to no germs on it, compared with reusable totes.

On March 14, 2020, the New York Post published an article about the positives of plastic bags: ‘Using tote bags instead of plastic could help spread the coronavirus’.

The article appeared originally in City Journal, where the author, John Tierney, is a contributing editor.

Highlights follow, emphases mine.

Everyone’s going green not only with tote bags, but also reusable cups. I can’t think of anything more distasteful than asking for one’s reusable cup to be refilled. What is going through retailers’ and legislators’ minds? Talk about a disease multiplier!

This is what happened in New York State in March:

a new law took effect this month banning single-use plastic bags in most retail businesses, and this week Democratic state legislators advanced a bill that would force coffee shops to accept consumers’ reusable cups — a practice that Starbucks and other chains have wisely suspended to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus.

John Flanagan, the Republican leader of New York’s Senate, rightly objected. He:

has criticized the new legislation and called for a suspension of the law banning plastic bags. “Senate Democrats’ desperate need to be green is unclean during the coronavirus outbreak,” he said Tuesday, but so far he’s been a lonely voice among public officials.

No doubt everything is suspended for now. You can imagine how New York got such high infection rates. Perhaps this will be examined later when the pandemic has died off.

We’re supposed to wash our tote bags regularly — admittedly, I do not, but I consider myself to be very careful. No doubt everyone else with tote bags does, too!

The COVID-19 virus is just one of many pathogens that shoppers can spread unless they wash the bags regularly, which few people bother to do. Viruses and bacteria can survive in the tote bags up to nine days, according to one study of coronaviruses.

The risk of spreading viruses was clearly demonstrated in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health. The researchers, led by Ryan Sinclair of the Loma Linda University School of Public Health, sent shoppers into three California grocery stores carrying polypropylene plastic tote bags that had been sprayed with a harmless surrogate of a virus.

After the shoppers bought groceries and checked out, the researchers found sufficiently high traces of the surrogate to risk transmission on the hands of the shoppers and checkout clerks, as well as on many surfaces touched by the shoppers, including packaged food, unpackaged produce, shopping carts, checkout counters, and the touch screens used to pay for groceries. The researchers said that the results warranted the adaptation of “in-store hand hygiene” and “surface disinfection” by merchants, and they also recommended educating shoppers to wash their bags.

Another study found that single-use bags were hygienic at the time they were provided at the point of sale:

An earlier study of supermarkets in Arizona and California found large numbers of bacteria in almost all the reusable bags — and no contamination in any of the new single-use plastic bags. When a bag with meat juice on the interior was stored in the trunk of a car, within two hours the number of bacteria multiplied tenfold.

Yes, there are all sorts of dangerous bacteria lurking in reusable bags, including e. Coli:

The researchers also found that the vast majority of shoppers never followed the advice to wash their bags. One of the researchers, Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, said that the findings “suggest a serious threat to public health,” particularly from fecal coliform bacteria, which was found in half the bags. These bacteria and other pathogens can be transferred from raw meat in the bag and also from other sources.

An outbreak of viral gastroenteritis among a girls’ soccer team in Oregon was traced to a reusable grocery bag that had sat on the floor of a hotel bathroom. In a 2012 study, researchers analyzed the effects of San Francisco’s ban on single-use plastic grocery bags by comparing emergency-room admissions in the city against those of nearby counties without the bag ban. The researchers, Jonathan Klick of the University of Pennsylvania and Joshua Wright of George Mason University, reported a 25 percent increase in bacteria-related illnesses and deaths in San Francisco relative to the other counties.

And, as I said yesterday, the bags end up sitting everywhere before they pop on top of the supermarket counter:

New York’s state officials were told of this risk before they passed the law banning plastic bags. In fact, as the Kings County Politics Web site reported, a Brooklyn activist, Allen Moses, warned that shoppers in New York City could be particularly vulnerable because they often rest their bags on the floors of subway cars containing potentially deadly bacteria from rats — and then set the bag on the supermarket checkout counter. Yet public officials remain committed to reusable bags.

To get around this, New York has developed an elaborate set of shopping and packing guidelines which, oddly enough, include a greater use of plastic:

A headline on the Web site of the New York Department of Health calls reusable grocery bags a “Smart Choice”bizarre advice, considering all the elaborate cautions underneath that headline. The department advises grocery shoppers to segregate different foods in different bags; to package meat and fish and poultry in small disposable plastic bags inside their tote bags; to wash and dry their tote bags carefully; to store the tote bags in a cool, dry place; and never to reuse the grocery tote bags for anything but food.

You couldn’t make it up.

I agree 110% with John Flanagan:

Disposable plastic is the cheapest, simplest, and safest way to prevent foodborne illnesses.

Instead, leaders in New York and other states are ordering shoppers to make a more expensive, inconvenient and risky choice — all to serve a green agenda that’s actually harmful to the environment. The ban on plastic bags will mean more trash in landfills (because paper bags take up so much more space than the thin disposable bags) and more greenhouse emissions (because of the larger carbon footprints of the replacement bags). And now, probably, it will also mean more people coming down with COVID-19 and other illnesses.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s what partly accounted for New York State’s high COVID-19 rates. I hope we will find out one day.

Bottom line: disposable plastic is hygienic.

Like many of my readers, no doubt, I have to turn off the authoritarian madness surrounding coronavirus every day.

There is one silver lining to the Chi-vi, though: the comeback of disposable plastic.

Last year in England, Conservative (?!) MPs disparaged ‘the scourge of disposable plastic’.

Those of us who find plastic bags and straws useful smirked.

It turns out that, with coronavirus, we had the last — and best — laugh. Never mind if it’s temporary, we have found that disposable plastic bags and containers are actually hygienic. We know from the spread of e. Coli since the advent of reusable tote bags.

With the prevalence of coronavirus in March, merchants in England did a re-think on reusable bags. They give customers plastic bags now, in store and for home delivery.

The United States also recognises the questionable hygiene surrounding reusable tote bags:

Good, good.

People are hardly likely to take care of their tote bags, are they?

Said bags sit on the pavement, the bus or train floor and the manky kitchen counter before they sit on a supermarket checkout counter. Errgh.

Even reusable cups — the latest eco-friendly fad before coronavirus — have been banned in various establishments, and rightly so:

Good, good.

In England, some supermarkets began to deliver home shopping orders in paper bags before coronavirus. The same supermarkets switched back to sturdy plastic when lockdown was announced on Monday, March 23. Even now that lockdown has been largely lifted, supermarkets are still packaging customer purchases in plastic bags.

My weekly — not to mention monthly — waste was much less with plastic bags. Although my butcher, thankfully, still uses them, my fishmonger has switched to paper.

With the butcher, I can rinse the plastic packaging — a flimsy white bag — and dump it into the waste bin which has items I cannot recycle. Those bags are very small. If I am concerned about any residual odour during the summer months, I put the rinsed bags into a clean plastic bag from a local shop and pop them in the bin. Those clean plastic bags contained vegetables or other items I purchased in other shops. I am reusing them.

With the fishmonger, it’s an entirely different story. He bundles everything in three pieces of paper wrap and puts purchases in a flimsy paper shopping bag, which starts bursting at the bottom before I can get it in the door.

‘Those shopping bags are expensive’, he says.

I’d rather he went back to the plastic sealable bags he once used. I had next to no waste. I could even give each bag a good soapy wash after removing the fish and could reuse them at least three times apiece. Where’s the waste there?

With his new paper system, I have to bundle a load of smelly paper into one trash bag that never used to have any fishmonger’s waste. This means that when I normally would not have had to put the non-recyclable waste bin out, I do now — after visiting his shop.

I tried to explain to him that paper production is water-intensive and equally expensive in other ways. However, his two daughters, and no doubt his wife, have convinced him that this is the way to go.

There is another aspect of disposable plastic that relates to coronavirus: disposable masks, which are becoming increasingly more mandatory in various nations in various circumstances!

Strangely, those who support the wearing of masks — even the disposable plastic ones — also support carrying one’s own tote bags and reusable drinks containers.

You could not make this up.

Florence Nightingale was born 200 years ago on May 12, 1820, in Tuscany, where her parents were on holiday.

As Prime Minister Boris Johnson tells us in this fascinating three-minute video, she became the mother of modern nursing during the Crimean War and trained other women to become ‘ministering angels’. Newly-qualified American nurses still recite the Nightingale Pledge. India gives a Florence Nightingale Award to a deserving nurse every year. An asteroid bears her name, as does a Dutch airliner:

It is only fitting that our (now mothballed) temporary hospitals for coronavirus patients in England bear her name.

Boris also paid tribute to the excellent care that today’s nurses, men and women, provide to patients in their care. Therefore, it is also fitting that Florence Nightingale’s birthday is International Nurses Day.

It is worth pointing out that the key to successful nursing, as Florence Nightingale discovered early on, is personal hygiene, both for themselves and for their patients.

Therefore, we can apply a few lessons from her work to ourselves at home: washing our hands and staying clean. It’s an enduring message from an extraordinary woman.

As British and American health officials have been saying for the past few weeks, washing our hands is the best defence against coronavirus.

It’s something so simple, yet oft neglected.

Soap and water experiment

The following photos illustrates the efficacy of using soap and water over a hand sanitiser.

Note, in particular, No. 1 (far right) — ‘Wiped on Chromebook’. It’s filthy:

Here is a close up of soap versus hand sanitiser:

This experiment began in November 2019, not long before the initial appearance of COVID-19 in China the following month. How timely.

The New York Post reported the story, which took place in Discovery Elementary School in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

The two teachers who conducted the experiment, Jaralee Annice Metcalf and Dayna Robertson, were even surprised at the results. Robinson:

learned about the experiment on Mystery Science, a website for teachers to share science lessons.

They had students touch the various slices of bread after lunch, according to the conditions illustrated above. The teachers purposely left the Chromebook unsanitised from the day before.

The ensuing weeks unfolded as follows (emphases mine):

Each slice was dropped in a plastic bag, labeled, and hung on the classroom wall. It was about two weeks later, according to Roberston, that they started to see mold growth. At that point, the class took their Thanksgiving break.

After that, says Robertson, “It just exploded.”

“I don’t even think we expected it to look so drastic,” added Metcalf.

The revolting results were “a big surprise” for the class, according to Robertson. While they assumed that the unwashed hands sample might be the most vulnerable to mold, it turned out that the bread rubbed on the Chromebooks turned the blackest and fuzziest of all.

They also didn’t expect to learn that hand washing would be the most effective means of battling bacterial growth, as opposed to hand sanitizer. Shockingly, the bread handled post-gel appeared to harbor at least two different strains of both black and yellow-colored mold …

Word of their alarming assessment spread like a virus. Soon teachers throughout the school came to the classroom with their own students to give “mini-lessons” on proper hygiene using the moldy bread as an example.

Their demonstration yielded even better results than they’d anticipated.

“We have students that will just pop up randomly and be like, ‘I’m gonna go wash my hands,’ and just walk out of the classroom,” says Metcalf, who’s not complaining about the interruption. “We’re like, ‘OK, that’s a good idea!’ ”

I hope that adults who have seen the photos on social media have taken note. I worked with quite a few people during my career who did not wash their hands.

Why soap and water work so well

Dr Palli Thordarson is an expert in supramolecular chemistry and the assembly of nanoparticles. He is from Iceland but teaches at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

He recently published a long thread of 39 tweets about the superiority of cleaning hands with soap and water.

This is the Thread Reader App link.

Below are excerpts from his highly informative thread:

He explains how a virus is structured and how soap breaks up that structure. Lipids are organic compounds that bind together because they do not react to water. Fats are part of a subgroup of lipids called triglycerides. Other types of lipids include, but are not limited to, waxes and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). We need lipids in order to live, but there are bad ones, too — those that cover virus cells:

Viruses can bond with certain types of surfaces. Unfortunately, these include skin, clothing and wood:

This is why we should not touch our faces. Parents and teachers used to teach this fact to children a few decades ago. For centuries, it was a sign of good breeding not to touch one’s face. That advice went out the window, probably in the 1980s. It’s time we rediscovered it for the following reasons:

Now on to the chemistry of soap and water against virus cells:

The professor explains why antibacterial washes do not work as well:


Let’s keep calm and wash our hands — often!

BBC logoThe latest series of BBC1’s MasterChef, hosted by restaurateur John Torode and greengrocer Gregg Wallace, has hit the headlines with viewer accusations of poor kitchen hygiene.

The show’s finals will take place next week. Meanwhile, we, too, have also noticed men’s perspiration dripping into restaurant or mass catering dishes. Several of the women really should have pulled their hair back as it was hanging over pots and dinner plates.

You can read more about viewer observations on the BBC’s Points of View page. I’m less concerned about the different coloured plastic chopping boards than I am in their cleanliness. Over the past several years, today’s cooks, domestic science teachers and homemakers have been debating whether a petrochemical chopping board is superior to a wooden one. SpouseMouse and I have always used wooden ones. Our mothers and other antecedents did not have plastic boards in their day. We were always taught that chopping boards had to be cleaned thoroughly although wood has its own built-in disinfectant which kicks in two days later. Therefore, we do not see the merits of petrochemical boards, which do not have this disinfectant property. The key is to wash whatever cutting board one uses properly.

The hair and perspiration are indeed a trial to watch. The makers of MasterChef say that in the professional kitchens, hygiene standards were practiced. (Auntie Beeb is always right.) I’m not so sure. This is not the first time we in the mousehole have seen sweat and hair in places it should not have been. Even at home, I have to watch out for the rare stray hair. If we did have a perspiration problem, we would probably tie bandanas around our foreheads whilst cooking. Comments on the Yahoo! page indicate that in a hot kitchen, chef’s toques can make the head quite hot over a period of kitchen service.

Tasting with the same spoon and the licking of fingers also came up in the comments.  The series, whether with semi-professional or amateur contestants, generally lacks good examples for the aspiring cook. In addition to the aforementioned hygiene abominations, we rarely see contestants washing their hands. Nothing ever looks clean.

Meanwhile, at home, I’m careful not to touch my hair or face unless necessary. If I do, I then wash my hands. I don’t know how often I wash my hands, countertop and chopping boards in the space of a few hours when cooking. It seems to be a constant. My only sin is tasting with the same spoon, which I do my best to avoid when we’re having guests over for dinner.

In many respects, MasterChef — whilst entertaining — really should be showing us a good example. I’ve thought less and less of the food overall although Gregg and John do bang on about how competent their contestants are. However, a ‘good’ cook can still poison people with lax hygiene.

It’s time for MasterChef to add more information about kitchen hygiene. When I was young, I really trusted television. If I did something I saw on television which turned out to be ‘wrong’, my defence, honestly spoken, was that I’d seen it on telly. After all, telly people could never be wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t be appearing on our screens. Right?

I won’t have been the only person assuming that something uncriticised on television is right just because it is being broadcast.

Poor kitchen hygiene can be lethal.

Gregg and John would do well to address hygiene in subsequent by pointing out good examples: ‘Sarah’s now washing her hands because she’s just handled raw chicken’. That should certainly extend to MasterChef‘s other violations involving hair, perspiration and tasting.

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