Reusable bags are offered, but too often forgotten
Only about a third of environmentally conscious grocery shoppers remember to bring reusable bags with them to the market, say local store managers.
Convictions, fashion savvy and financial incentives are no match for the faulty memory.
Mike Holm, manager at The Market, said he’s happy to comply with the wishes of shoppers, and already offers reusable bags for about a dollar, but believes most shoppers aren’t ready to do away with the plastic alternative.
Sondra Stephens, marketing specialist for Whole Foods Market, said she believes it is the responsibility of forward-thinking businesses to force changes in consumption. Her company stopped offering plastic bags on Earth Day in April.
The issue of plastic bags is on the minds of many in Park City as the city’s Leadership 14 class, Recycle Utah and the Environmental Club at Park City High School collaborate to campaign against their use. A special week of events starting Sept. 21 is planned to raise awareness of the harmful side effects of plastic bags.
Reusable canvas bags are now available in most stores, and Holm said he sees about 40 percent of Park City customers using them. But in the Salt Lake Valley, he predicts it to be around 5 to 10 percent.
The Whole Foods store in Salt Lake City on Highland Drive, where Stephens is based, sees about 25 to 30 percent. That’s with reminders posted around the store and a 10 cent-per-bag discount to reward those who remember.
The problem isn’t interest. Holm, Stephens, and a written statement from Albertsons Inc. all said reusable bags sell well, and are in increasing demand.
The problem is memory.
The Market offers a 5 cent per bag discount to entice shoppers to bring their own, and posts a sign on the door encouraging people to remember. But Whole Foods shoppers don’t remember any more often even when offered twice that much.
For Whole Foods, the effort to remind customers is more urgent since they are paying more for the recycled paper bags it uses as an alternative.
The disposable plastic bags cost about half a penny. Paper bags or biodegradable plastic bags cost about five or six cents each, Holm said. Whole Foods is paying about 18 cents per recycled paper bag, Stephens said.
Considering the damage done to landfills and open spaces, Stephens said she thinks it’s worth it and supports the corporate decision.
"It seems doable to me," Stephens said. "Even if people are more conscious today, they’re still slow in changing. If we make that decision for them, we can help the environment immediately."
Bill Wertz, spokesman for Wal-Mart, said he isn’t sure what percentage of customers remember bags, but said he’s getting better at remembering his own and notices the same with others.
Trying to be conscious of the harms of plastic bags, Wal-Mart has installed recycling bins for the bags in the front of stores, he said.
From what he understands, paper bags in all forms are worse than plastic, so Wal-Mart will stick with what they’ve got while encouraging people to remember the reusable ones, Wertz said.
Neither Wal-Mart nor Albertsons Inc. have stores in San Francisco where plastic bags have been banned, but if they were banned here, Wertz said his company always complies with local laws. Albertsons Inc. forwarded a written statement saying it offers reusable bags, but refused to comment on efforts to ban the bags.
Local resident Tori Trombley said she tries to remember her reusable bags by keeping them next to the car seats in her vehicle. When she grabs her kids on the way into a store, she grabs her bags. If she forgets to put them in the car, she forces herself to carry in her hands anything she purchases to force herself to remember.
"I started using them a year ago because my boss gave me two," she said. "Now I have an easy time remembering them because they’re cute, they’re fashionable."
Trombley said she thinks the perfect solution would be for grocery stores to charge customers for paper or plastic bags. That would reduce the store’s cost, and hopefully their prices, while encouraging shoppers to remember their own or find ways around them.
Holm said he’s supportive and understanding of these efforts, but isn’t sure all customers would agree. He said he still sees customers requesting everything be double-bagged so nothing breaks. Not everyone sees it as a problem, and his store wants to accommodate everyone.
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Court report: Week of June 22