The boxes were gone. My three-year-old was crestfallen. He had looked forward to his regular job of returning the plastic bags from last week’s grocery shopping trip to the recycling boxes just inside the store. But the boxes are no longer there; an employee told us that the store had discontinued its recycling.
“You know what that’s about,” my husband said cynically. “They want you to buy the reusable bags. The plastic bags won’t be available longer.” Racks of canvas bags for $1.00 apiece had recently appeared in front of the checkout counters. The signs above the bags proclaim the environmentally responsible aspect of using them, a statement that seems a bit hypocritical coming from a store that has just stopped recycling its plastic bags.
I confess that I am not particularly environmentally conscious. Many of the things I do are good for the environment (at least compared to my neighbors), but I do them because they save me money, not because they are good for the environment. Saving money and decreasing waste motivates me; an abstract call to save the environment does not. For this reason, I am willing to return bags to the store to recycle them, but I am not willing to buy grocery bags when I can get them for free. I suspect that most people are like me, though they are not as likely to admit it. (For all the talk I hear about saving the environment, I have not yet seen anyone actually using those canvas bags at the checkout.)
If stores really care about the environment, why don’t they give reusable bags to their customers? Yes, they are initially more expensive than paper or plastic, but if the canvas bags are as sturdy as they are advertised to be, they should be less expensive over time. If stores are concerned that customers won’t bring back “free” bags, perhaps they could consider giving canvas only to customers who have spent a certain amount over a period of time, as a loyalty reward. The cost of the bags could be taken out of the profit already made on those customers, and customers would be more likely to value (and use) something they believe they have earned.
Assuming my husband is right, as he usually is in such matters, we will soon have to bring our own bags to grocery stores. I, for one, will resist buying grocery bags for as long as possible. I would be more likely to bring my own canvas tote bags in awkward and assorted sizes (designed for carrying books and beach gear) or try some suggestions for getting a grip on shopping bags. Forcing me (and budget-minded customers like me) to buy bags would cause ill will toward stores and a potential loss of significant profit over a minor issue. Plus, charging customers for reusable bags may actually decrease public sympathy for environmental causes. Providing an opportunity to reuse grocery bags is a good thing; passing the costs on to customers is not.
Image courtesy of jek in the box