BYOB: bring your own bags! The next time the clerk at the grocery store asks you “paper or plastic?” hopefully, you will say neither. Bringing your own, reusable bags to the grocery store takes little to no effort but has many beneficial outcomes.
Although many plastics are recyclable, not 100 percent of them end up in the recycle bin. We all have a giant stash of plastic bags somewhere in the house: in the garage, under the sink or in that “miscellaneous” bottom drawer in our kitchen. According to plasticbagrecycling.org, the following items are recyclable: grocery bags, paper towel and toilet paper plastic wrap, plastic newspaper bags, plastic dry cleaning bags and all clean and clear bags labeled No. 2 or 4. Almost every grocery store in town has a receptacle on-site where you can drop your used plastic sacks on the way in. But why go through the trouble of bringing the bags back to the store when you can bring your own from home? The best solution is not to avoid using plastic bags completely.
According to the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research firm that advises both government and private leaders on global issues, North America and Western Europe account for nearly 80 percent of plastic bag consumption. Each year, Americans throw away some 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags, with only 0.6 percent of plastic bags being recycled.
Canvas and reusable bags are stronger than the thin, plastic sacks most grocery stores use – heavy items are often double bagged, wasting even more plastic. Re-usable bags are most often larger than standard-sized grocery bags, which means less trips back and forth from the car upon arriving home from the store. Next time, you can avoid your orange juice carton, milk jug, or wine bottles falling through the bottom by using your own, more sturdy version. I saw this happen the other day while standing in line to pay at Trader Joe’s. The man in front of me fell victim to faulty glue on the handle of a paper bag and lost a dozen eggs. As he walked through the threshold of the automatic sliding door, the paper handle failed and his new purchase turned into a raw, sticky mess.
Trader Joe’s offers a wide selection of colorful, canvas and even insulated bags to keep items cold on the way home. The store on South Higuera Street offers a selection of bags from $0.99 to $4.99. Customers can purchase bags with sturdy, nylon handles for $0.99, an insulated version for $1.99 and a canvas bag for $2.99. Trader Joe’s also offers an incentive for shoppers who bring in their own bags – whether they’re the Trader Joe’s paper bags from their last shopping trip, Trader Joe’s reusable bags, or the customer’s own. For each trip shoppers make to the store with their own bags, they fill out a raffle ticket with their name and phone number. The store holds a weekly drawing for a $25 gift certificate, celebrating those customers who BYOB.
Even if your groceries don’t all fit into the bags they’ve brought, they still cut down significantly on consumption.
New Frontiers Natural Marketplace has re-usable green bags for purchase for $.99 and gives a five-cent discount at the register for each bag their customers bring. The small marketplace on Foothill Boulevard also has a place to recycle used plastic bags near the entrance to the store.
Bigger chain stores are also catching on. Currently, if you spend $50 at the Vons / Safeway chain, you receive a free, reusable and environmentally friendly shopping bag.
Even Cal Poly’s Campus Market has a new rack of reusable bags. They are printed with the Campus Market logo and priced at $12, but you can also bring your own bags to campus market, or simply throw your items into your backpack.
Purchases from grocery stores make up a majority of the items we bag in plastic sacks, but there are many other stores around town that use similar bags. Girls: with the giant purses we carry around, we should never need a bag. It might seem awkward at first to stop a clerk from bagging your item, and I’ve definitely gotten a few strange “why not?” or “OK, hippie” looks. It’s so automatic to us as consumers now that we don’t even think about it, to the point when it’s almost awkward to say “oh, it’s OK, I don’t need a bag.”
If you feel strange walking out the door without an item in a bag because of the appearance that you might be shoplifting, just make sure to carry your receipt on top of the item on your way out.
At the same time, you’ll be saving money, helping the environment and making less trips back and forth to the car. What more could you want? BYOB.
Hayley Bramble is a journalism senior and a reporter for the Mustang Daily.