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Plastic bag lobby wants to stay disposable 

It doesn’t take a Beverly Hillbilly to see through the plastics industry's "research" on cloth bag dangers.

Elly May Clampett could really work a paper dress.

Elly May was patriarch Jed Clampett's daughter on The Beverly Hillbillies, a 1960s sitcom about a family of nouveau riche hicks who move to a mansion in Beverly Hills after finding oil on their land.

The Beverly Hillbillies finished production before I emerged from the womb and into the loving arms of American network television, but during my childhood in front of the living room floor-model glow, I learned a lot from the show's re-runs.

Most of those lessons were from Elly May Clampett, a buxom tomboy-cum-pin-up. And most were about the madness of extravagance.

Not that this was highbrow TV; the goal of a sit-com is laughs. But there's inherent commentary on popular culture built into any product of that culture. So while viewers chuckled at the backwoods Clampetts fitting in with their Rodeo Drive neighbours, they also digested an easy-to-swallow examination of the ridiculousness of wealth.

Like, for example, a paper dress.

Elly May appeared in such a dress in one episode. For the love of little green apples don't ask me which one; I'm going back three decades here. But I have a stored image clear as Beverly Hills pool water: Elly May in the dress---white, short, Wilma Flintstone-esque---standing at the bottom of a staircase in the Clampett mansion, explaining to her cousin Jethro that you were supposed to wear it once and throw it away.

Elly May wore the dress with a while-in-Rome approach---she embraced it, but she didn't quite get why anyone would wear something you just tossed in the bin before bed. And I suppose that's where the nuance of pop culture philosophy comes in: Elly May wore the dress, but it wasn't so every fan would run out and buy one. It was, the sitcom writers told us, so we could all laugh at the inherent lunacy of disposable clothing.

Penning a commentary on the folly of disposable culture was no small feat in the '60s (The Beverly Hillbillies ran from 1962 to 1971), when the culture of disposability that took hold after the Second World War was claiming its deep and destructive foothold.

Forty years later, we're mired in it still. Our one advance in the battle against a toss-away world?

Grocery bags.

Single-use plastic grocery bags, for many of us, are no longer a bygone conclusion. They have become---either because they cost a nickel at the store, or because the cloth kind can be so much more fashionable or because society has labelled plastic-bag users pariahs---an emergency measure.

The plastics lobby? They'd like us to go back to the Elly May paper dress approach to carrying groceries.

Canada's Environment and Plastics Industry Council funded a study (available at released in May to investigate the potential public health risks from reusable bags.

The study found reusable bags that looked clean were routinely infected with elevated levels of bacteria, mould and yeast.

The council stresses it isn't in this for its own profit---"the industry...recognizes use of reusables as good environmental practice," according to the report, "but it does not want to see these initiatives inadvertently compromise public health and safety."

Of course not.

In line with that purported selflessness, the report doesn't suggest people only use plastic, and only use it once, but that, among other recommendations, governmental safety standards be developed for cloth bags.

Yes. For cloth bags. Safety guidelines. Written by the government.

Perhaps LaSenza should send me home with a government-produced booklet on how to safely use and clean my underwear. Because I'm pretty sure there's some nasty stuff in there.

Look, I'm the biggest germophobe you're likely to ever come across---a militant clean freak with a Howard Hughesian bent for hygiene procedures. Hughes wrote a manual for his staff on how to open canned peaches, and I might do the same someday.

And despite having read the Plastics Industry Council's 15-page report, I have a different set of recommendations.

One: ditch plastic bags, even if the report showed "no evidence of bacteria, mould, yeast or total coliforms."

Two: use your cloth bags with the common sense most of us have. Don't use them to carry around your mud-and-dog-shit-spoiled running sneakers and then to bring home a pint of strawberries.

Once a week, when you pitch your crusty underwear into the washer and dryer, throw the bags in too.

Even Elly May Clampett could figure that one out.

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