Grocery stores and their love of all things trash.

September 8, 2006

Grocery stores love to give you bags and they insist on it even if you only bought 1 banana. I dont know why, but it must be somewhere in the training manual that every customer must get a bag, no ifs, and’s or buts! I had been thinking about this for a while when I came across an article titled “Secret Society of Plastic Bag Haters” somewhere. The author was at a roadside stand buying a few veggies when the woman running the business asked if she would mind combining her items into one plastic bag instead of 3 or 4. Now, isnt that something? What if the grocery store would do that? We could save millions of bags a year from going into landfills, AND save the store some money on bags. Which leads me to what brought on this thinking…

Last week, I went to the store to buy just a few vegetables and some juice. Thats it. While checking out, the bagger started putting them in 3 different bags. I said “I dont need a bag at all” and the bagger looked at me confused, and then went to help another cashier. Not 20 seconds later, another bagger came over and started putting the stuff in a bag. Again,I said “No, really, I dont need any bags, its only a few things”. So that bagger left as well. Crazy, right?

Now…if you buy some juice, a pepper and an onion…how many bags would you need to carry them out to your car? 3? 4? These big stores must go through thousands and thousands of paper and plastic bags every day, and I would guess that most of them end up in the trash. Why is that? Normally, I bring my own canvas bags to the store so I dont need any of their bags. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s both have incentives for you to bring your own reusable bags. What will it take for the big stores to do the same? Do they not A. care about the environment or B. want to save probably millions of dollars a year on their bag needs?

I just dont get it.

Now, what can we do about it? Ideas? Suggestions for a campaign, either local or nationwide? Please leave comments about what you think can be done and I will assemble them in a future post so we can possibly start something!

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Comments (15)

  1. Rebecca Carter says:

    SO TRUE, I’ve had a similar situation recently (link in my name w/comment). I propose we actually form a secret society and one day soon, form a revolution!

  2. Anna says:

    Hey David,
    Great post! And I second Rebecca’s idea…..in the last few days I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the number of anti-disposables related bloggers out there. There must be some way to start a focused campaign of sorts – wanna strategize?
    A great place to start would be better visuals/signage/etc. in some of the stores that offer discounts. Even places like Albertson’s give small incentives – but they seem to want to keep this a big secret, who’d EVER know except those who already bring canvas bags?
    I’m trying to get this going in Santa Moncica: http://www.bringyourown.org
    Would love to brainstorm.
    Thanks for your efforts!

  3. David says:

    Wow Rebecca, thats a great story. I cannot believe that people just dont care..its scary!

    I think we need a revolution…Anna?

  4. jane says:

    Thankfully things aren’t that bad here in the UK.

    Firstly it’s normally the cashier that does the packing (if at all) so you have more control – some would say that the customer service isn’t as good, but at least you have the control!

    Secondly, I certainly find that more often than not people in supermarkets accept you bringing your own bags. This has been predominantly because of the “bag for life” schemes that the supermarkets run – buy a bag and they’ll replace it when it runs out.

    Have a look here and here for some of the discussions we’ve been having about the supermarkets in the UK.

  5. Interesting post. I think we should do like they do in Ireland. Check this link for a great anecdote.

    I’ve been using the plastic bags for a while (I go through fits of not being so earth friendly.) But I think it’s high time I bought some cloth bags.

    Sunshine

  6. Rebecca Carter says:

    For my birthday I asked for some bags from reusablebags.com…still waiting for their arrival. I also requested the “activist kit” – for $3 you get a bunch of BYOB stickers, a couple of buttons and a T-shirt. Granted, it is the branding of the site, but I think it’s a good start.

    I’m planning on doing something here in Miami, but want to get really organized first. Here are some things I think I (we) need to get this done:

    A contact list of people locally that are interested in joining “the revolution”.

    A good format for statistics, FAQs, etc…to battle any questions / arguments that may come.

    A guide for supermarkets to learn from, as well as train baggers & cashiers on how to deal with customers with their own bags. (As well as: How not to waste plastic bags)

    A proposed program on how to offer a discount or other incentive to bring your own bag.

    Offer the grocery stores to staff a booth outside the store to educate shoppers as well as sell bags.

    Potentially: Could seek sponsors for the bags, in order to offer some for free.

    Would love to strategize with anyone interested. greenermiami [at] gmail [dot] com.

  7. David says:

    Jane, thanks for the links..and “bag for Life” sounds like a great idea!

  8. David says:

    Rebecca, great stuff….will assemble everything in a future post!

  9. David,

    Thanks for the heads up. I never thought about looking at soemthing like that (duh!). I’ll check the thrift stores or the flea market.

    Sunshine

  10. Mare says:

    I’m so glad to read your comments about this. I have wondered if I’m the only person who opposes the use of plastic bags (and the nearly universal use of plastic containers).

    Over the last few years I have become known in local stores as the “no bag” lady. Seriously.
    At the checkout counter I sometimes refuse plastic bags by saying something like, “No thanks. Plastic bags are petroleum by-products that will someday be recognized as the cause of a major environmental disaster. Think about it.” (I’m sure some of the folks hearing this think I’m somewhat nuts, but I feel that you have to start somewhere.)

    When I get food at deli counters in plastic containers, I save the containers and recently started taking them back to the stores for re-use whenever I want to purchase another food item(s) requiring a container(s). I’ve had some success in doing this. A few clerks have even welcomed the idea after I’ve explained why I’m doing it.

    My opposition to the broad use of plastic bags, etc., increased last year when I had a cancer scare. It led me to do a lot of reading about the disease. That’s how I came upon the topic of “xeno estrogens”–toxic chemicals and other substances (including plastics) that act as estrogens in our bodies. They are hormone disrupters capable, apparently, of changing the sex of male fish. Some believe them to be implicated bigtime in certain kinds of human cancers–particularly, breast and prostate. As you might expect, I am very concerned about this.

    I am willing to support any movement to educate the public about dangers of plastic (plastic bags, bottles, etc.) and to press for more reasearch into the issue with the goal of possible legislation in the future. I will check out the post that you mentioned.

  11. David says:

    Mare, glad to see there are more out there like us! Be sure to stay tuned as I hope we will be covering this a little more in-depth.

    And dont let them look at you crazy at the store!

  12. Anonymous says:

    When there were only plastic bags, the grocery baggers had an arcane system bagging items in a specific configuration, certain items went to gether, don’t put all cans in one bag….plastic bags blew those skills out the window. I don’t need one bag for my milk and one for my toothpaste and one for my cookies!

  13. Anonymous says:

    I have taken my own canvas bags to stores for at least 3 years now and still get odd looks. I like that I can put my groceries in them and it makes less trips to the car when bringing in groceries. I love the bags I have been given or have gotten for buying items.

    I just wish they would charge per plastic bag you used I know this would cut down on the use of plastic bags alot.

    Yes I do use plastic bags and when I need them I don’t take my bags with me.