a nice design

Sabrina checking out the new addition to our reusable shopping bag collection

For the past couple of days, my good friend, saddle pal, and western guide, Wilbur “Sparky” Rawlins, and I, have been working on a couple of pieces about our recent travels. Those should appear here at Burning Silo sometime soon. In the meantime, here’s an item that seems worthy of discussion — reusable shopping bags.

Sure, the topic may not seem newsworthy, but reusable shopping bags deserve more attention than they get. When you look around you at the check-out counter, how often do you see someone using one these days? Most likely, the answer is, “Not nearly enough.” No sir. Instead, the majority of shoppers just keep bringing home more and more of those nasty plastic bags, using up more petrochemicals, and in many areas where there is no reclamation program for plastic bags, creating more trash for the local landfills. So, today, I’d like to take a moment to discuss resuable shopping bags.

Now, the reason that I happen to have them on my mind just now is that, last weekend, while shopping in our favourite whole food store, Foodsmith’s the Good Food Store, in the village of Perth, we noticed that they had a supply of very nicely designed reusable shopping bags available for purchase for $1.49 each at the check-out counter. I had already been aware of these bags as I’d heard about the BBB (Bins, Bags and Baskets) Project started by a group of Perth-area residents working with the support of ecoPerth.

We’ve had other reusable shopping bags over the years, but these are really pretty special, so we added a couple to our collection. Apparently, from what I read about the bags earlier this year, they were designed after consultation with both shoppers and check-out staff at grocery stores. That’s a plus as, in the past, I’ve found that some reusable bags aren’t all that compatible with the bag packing racks in stores. These bags stand rigidly like standard brown paper shopping bags, so they’re a cinch to pack. They have a small zippered pocket inside which can be used to store small items that might otherwise be misplaced (see below). The bags are imprinted with the names of supporters of the reusable bag program in Perth. The supplier of the bags appears on the bottom as www.bringyourbag.com. At $1.49 each, they’re a helluva a bargain. I’m certain that we’ll get great use out of ours as it looks sturdy enough to last a few years.

For those who might have a hard time remembering to bring your reusable bag with you on every shopping trip, here are just a few sobering statistics quoted from the Plastic Bags page of the ecoPerth website:

Film plastic – shopping bags, bread and produce bags – is the largest type of plastic in the household waste stream by volume and weight. The average household uses 1000 plastic bags each year. In the Perth area alone – the municipalities of Perth, Lanark Highlands, Tay Valley and Drummond – the 22,218 people living in 12,569 households use more than 12 million plastic bags each year, sending 314,250 kg of plastic waste to our landfill sites.

Plastic bags cost consumers approximately 5 cents each at the store and 2 cents each in additional taxes for recycling and landfill, for a total of $70 a year per household or $880,000 per year in the Perth area.

Anyone have anything to add to this discussion? Is your community doing anything special to encourage the use of reusable shopping bags? Do you have a favourite shopping or errand bag? Did you make it yourself? What’s it like?

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14 Responses to “a nice design”

  1. Wayne Says:

    Paper or plastic, Bev – which do you like?

    I can’t decide, but Glenn has been steadfast in using cloth bags he purchased years ago. Ours aren’t so nice as yours, but they do help! We’ve actually gone through two generations now in the last ten years because cloth bags do wear out eventually but not quite as fast as underwear.

    When I lived in Norway, at the end of the 80s, I quickly took note that shoppers brought their own bags, and that shops charged you for bags in which to put your goodies if you didn’t bring your own. Seemed like a great idea to me.

    Even now though we get looks askance when we present our own bags into which the items we’ve purchased should be placed. In this country, we’re still a bit crazy.

  2. Pamela Says:

    That looks like a great bag, especially for 1.49. A bag that stands like a paper bag of the old days is a good idea.

    I have a quite fancy lined tote bag I bought at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto from a craft stand many years ago for some $25.00 that I like because it’s big and has a little interior pocket (no zipper though), and I use cloth bags from the liquor store (I’m not in there much, but they seem to sell these periodically, for a buck or two). Sometimes, too often, I forget to bring one. Good for Perth for making this a community effort!

  3. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – One of our oldest reusable bags is made of the same material as the green bag in the photos — it’s red and was a freebie from Zeller’s. The shape is nowhere near as nice, and the construction not nearly as sturdy. I think we got it at least 10 or 12 years ago, and it’s still going strong, although I’ve had to resew a couple of seams that gave out. If these green ones last anywhere near as well, I’ll be most satisfied.
    On reactions to reusable bags, I’ve found the the response of check-out clerks varies depending on the stores and the bags. Those who work in the whole food stores are used to customers with reusable bags and don’t bat an eye. At the larger grocery stores, if you have bags that are floppy and difficult to pack, you often get a slight scowl when you present them at the cash. I think these new green bags will be well-liked by the check-out clerks at all stores as they are really no different to pack than a paper bag and they hold so much (the website claims they hold the equivalent of 3 plastic bags), that they should be preferred.
    As for which I prefer — paper or plastic. While I don’t like either and don’t like the idea of paper, I think it’s probably environmentally sounder than plastic, especially in places where plastic bags are not reclaimed. Our region had a recycling program for bags for many years, but discontinued it about 2 years ago, so those bags are now going into the landfill sites. At least with a paper bag, it can be used to hold “other” paper going into the recycling bin. By the way, I should probably write a post about recycling after traveling in Oregon and California. I was very surprised to find how difficult it was to recycle certain items in various places. One thing would be accepted in one place, but not in another. I spoke to locals about it and everyone said it was complicated and annoying. Unfortunately, that seems to result in tons of unnecessary waste. When we were camping, I was really quite distressed to see how so many people just tossed all kinds of recyclables into the main garbage hoppers rather than putting them in the right recycling cans. One morning, I actually stood around sorting garbage at one of the campsites because there were so many aluminum cans and bottles tossed into one of the hoppers. I’m sure some of the other campers thought I was a nutcase — or a homeless person looking for a meal. However, it made me too sick to think of all that stuff going to a landfill as I doubt it would have been later sorted, so I felt I had to do it.

    Pamela – I think forgetting to bring bags along is a common problem – it is here too. We now have enough bags “in circulation” to keep a couple indoors and others in our vehicle as well. That seems to help. The Perth initiative is really nice to see. Last time I sat in the parking lot at one of the grocery stores, I noticed quite a number of people coming out of the store with reusable bags, so I’m sure it must be making a difference. I think these kinds of programs take awhile to have an impact, but over time, I’m sure they do.

  4. k Says:

    I try to use reusable grocery bags as much as possible – an idea long ago drilled into me by my naturalist mother. Here in BC there is some encouragement, such as a 5 cent credit (yippee) credit on your shopping bill, but most cashiers still look at you like you are at least a little crazy and still want to put meat and other things in individual plastic bags inside your bag, so you have to keep an eye. So many people seem unaware (or perhaps don’t care?), and blissfully insist on extra bags, even for items such as milk jugs and laundry detergent, which often come with their own handle anyway!!!

  5. burning silo Says:

    k – I think it’s worth a try to use any form of encouragement if it will help motivate people to use reusable shopping bags. I’m not sure if it’s still the same in Perth, but until recently, if you came in with a reusable shopping bag, the store would make a donation to a local charity. There’s mention of it in that pool. If people will save things (such as aluminum drink can pull-tabs) to donate to charity’s for fundraising, then it seems likely that they might make the effort of bringing in a reusable bag if they know a donation will go towards a charity.

  6. Ruth Says:

    Our discount grocery stores such as Price Chopper and Food Basics charge 5 cents for each plastic bag. Boxes are free, and cloth bags are encouraged. I keep an assortment of purchased and homemade cloth bags in my car. At the market, I use my wheeled wire basket with a cardbard box insert, which my children have dubbed “The Good Idea”. It is possible to get into the habit of environmentally friendly packaging.

  7. robin andrea Says:

    We use cloth bags. We keep two in the car and grab one or two when we head into the food co-op. We’ve gotten into the habit of taking the bags back out to the car when we’ve unpacked the groceries. That way, we always have them when we head out to the store. We do let one of the grocery stores we go to pack our stuff in plastic, which we later use to fill with the cat’s used kitty litter. Wish there was a more ecologically sound way to deal with that. When we buy bottles of wine or water, we ask the clerks not to put them in any bags at all, we just wheel them out in our grocery cart and pack the back seat or trunk with them. Some items really need no bags at all!

  8. burning silo Says:

    Ruth – I like the sound of “The Good Idea” wheeled wire basket. We used to do almost the same for the brief time we lived in the city 30-some-odd years ago.

    Robin – I agree, some items don’t need bags, and sometimes packers also seem to use far too many bags. I definitely avoid having cashiers bag small items when I’m at a hardware store or similar. However, reusable cloth bags seem the best solution of all. Good to hear that so many of us are making use of them!

  9. Ontario Wanderer Says:

    We have lots of cloth bags and one of some heavier material. People at my local supermarket are now used to my using the bags instead of a shopping cart as I fill up the bags that I have and then stop shopping and go to the cash. There are still a few at cash that think they can pack better than I but I have been known to take the items back out and put them in myself so now most of them just let me pack my own. That being said, still most of our garbage is small plastic bags and containers that stores seem to think all items need to be in. I’ve not yet figured out an easy way to buy bulk foods in bags other than plastic. Any suggestions? (I have tried to use the small bulk food plastics bags more than once by labelling them with my felt marker but some of those bags sometimes don’t even make it to cash the first time without breaking.)

  10. burning silo Says:

    OW – Yes, the smaller plastic bags at the bulk food stores are a problem. One of the health food stores that I shopped at in the city used to encourage people to use one size of standard plastic food container which they charged some small amount for initially. You were supposed to bring containers with you each time you came shopping and a surprising number of people did so. The store deducted the weight of the container from the weight of the food when you got to the check-out. I haven’t been to that store in many years as I live too far away now, but it would be interesting to know if they’re still doing things that way. I’m not sure if they might now run into food handling regulations that would prohibit that, but perhaps not. Btw, it was the kind of store where the owners are very commited to environmental awareness, so they went out of the way to come up with ways of reducing the use of non-recycleables.

  11. Peter Says:

    Sobeys grocery store has started selling these now, 5 bags for $5, they appear to be pretty good quality and will stand up for easy filling.

    I find them alot easier on the hands when you have a heavy load, our parking spot is a little ways off, so that really helps :-)

  12. burning silo Says:

    Peter – Good to hear that Sobeys is promoting the bags now as it’s a pretty big chain in the east and there are starting to be quite a few up this way too. We find these bags easy on the hands too — *and* you don’t have to worry about the bottom falling out of the bag before you get to the door! Most of the cashiers seem to like these larger bags too. This week, we found that one of our local grocery stores is giving 3 cents off per bag if you bring your own. The cashier said that, in our case, each of our cloth bags held the equivalent of about 2 plastic bags (or more) worth of stuff, so she gave 6 cents off per bag. Nice to see that some of the stores are trying to provide an incentive to recycle or use cloth bags now.

  13. Sandra Says:

    I hear that they are increasing the $0.05 charge per bag to $0.25 per bag. That cost adds up to a family which goes shopping once a week. I hope the cost of plastic goes up so this will eventually drive more people to go cloth. Looking at pics of the bag it does not seem it is equivalent to 3 plastic bags. And does anyone know what the two holes are for?

  14. bev Says:

    Hi Sandra – Yes, at 25 cents per bag, I’m sure more people will consider swiching to reusable bags such as these. The thing is, most of the plastic bags can’t even hold too much weight without tearing open, so a large grocery order could easily require 8 bags (or maybe even more), which would amount to about $2.00.
    Regarding the above bag, the two holes are just large grommets that reinforce the attachment of the handles to the bag. We use these bags all the time and they hold an amazing about of groceries as they are very boxy-shaped and the “footprint” is quite large. They’re also taller than a lot of the other reusable bags we’ve seen. When one is full of stuff, it can weigh quite a lot. The standard plastic grocery bags couldn’t hold anywhere near as much food, especially by weight. The cashiers and packers at a couple of the stores we go to have remarked on how much the bags can hold, so I think they are fairly good compared to a lot of reusable shopping bags. You can actually fill these with enough groceries that they can be a bit hard to lift. What I particularly like about them is that we have a bit of a walk from out laneway to the kitchen up a couple of small flights of steps, and it sure is nice not having to worry about plastic bags splitting open and dumping contents on the ground enroute to the kitchen, etc… These bags are very sturdy and we use them all the time.