18 December 2008

Shopping cart handle guards: Recyclable health aid or greenwashed paper waster?

I got a press release about a new recyclable biodegradable protector for shopping cart handles. The "Kart-Smart" is a barrier that claims to protect from bacteria and viruses. It goes on and off at the store, and it can be printed with advertising messages.

The idea is that shopping carts are way too dirty and unhealthy, and you need to protect your customers. But is it really true? Are shopping carts so dirty that you should take special measures to not touch them? I was not convinced by Kart-Smart's link to this 2002 TV news story about shopping carts used by homeless people being mixed back into general usage without cleaning. I mean, come on, what's the chance that the cart I use at my local store was used last by a homeless person? And never cleaned?

But this link, to Snopes.com, is more convincing. I actually trust Snopes to give me the real truth. And Snopes says:
Claim: Handles of shopping carts are laden with germs. Status: True. ... The very folks that fuss with disposable toilet seat covers often won't think twice about manhandling a grocery cart around a store for half an hour, even though the surface they're hanging onto so fiercely for that interval has likely been coughed on, sneezed on, and grasped by shoppers who'd just finished handling packages of raw chicken and meat, or who just weren't the sort to wash their hands all that often. As for the fold-out child's seat found in most carts, even though it is routinely graced by the diapered bottoms of infants, it remains the cart's transport region of choice for fruits and vegetables, items that are often eaten uncooked or unwashed.

So what's a retailer to do? Maybe this disposable handle cover is a good solution. But that does nothing to protect the seat, which, like Snopes says, is home to both poopy baby butts and delicate produce. Consumers have recourse to products like this, this, and this. But what are retailers to do?

Some states require retailers to offer sanitizing wipes. Some stores use cart-washing systems -- some are even somewhat green.

Then again, I could not help but feel myself side with the doctor in this USA Today article who said, "We're too overzealous about avoiding all forms of bacteria as a society today."

No comments: