Wednesday, July 16, 2008

We (Wedge Co-op shoppers) are Successfully Getting Back to the Eco Basics

Landfill Schmandfill:
Reducing Plastic Bag Use at the Wedge

Congratulations Wedge Co-op Shoppers: Since March you have saved thousands of plastic bags from the landfill by using and reusing your shopping bags for groceries. In March, the Wedge stopped offering plastic shopping bags at the registers and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Thanks for all your dedication towards reducing our impact on the environment, one piece of plastic at a time.

But what about the next step? What about bags elsewhere in the store? Customer comments have been pouring in with questions about ways we could go further on this campaign and "green-up" the rest of our store's bagging options.

Let's begin by returning to one of the old catchphrases of the eco-movement: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Did you realize that phrase was meant to be a priority order? Use it as a checklist when it comes to deciding whether to take a plastic bag or not: Reduce your usage, and if you can't, then reuse a bag. Recycling, getting rid of the bag, is a last resort.

Dave Schermerhorn, Supplier Programs Manager for the National Co-op Grocers Association (NCGA), says he uses that three-part checklist when researching and finding bag options for NCGA co-ops like the Wedge.

"The best of all worlds would be to reduce, for customers to not take that plastic bag, or any bag, at all," Schermerhorn said. "But that's not always possible." Indeed, for the Wedge to stop buying all plastic bags, without educating or preparing customers, would be a huge shock for most. How would they carry green beans to the cash register? What about rice? The Wedge couldn't simply do away with plastic bags without warning.

"If customers can't reduce, then the next best thing is to reuse," according to Schermerhorn, and this is where finding a more ecologically friendly plastic bags is key, while customers learn to bring their own bags for produce and other items. Schermerhorn's mission is to find bags and other kinds of packaging that use as little "virgin material" as possible, that is, finding bags made from reused or "recovered" plastic elements. Recovered, in this case, refers to any plastic diverted from going to the landfill. Crown Poly, the company that makes the produce bags used at NCGA co-ops, uses scraps, trim and regrindings in order to make their bags.

"It's not the perfect solution, but I like it that NCGA co-ops are creating a market for this material and keeping it out of landfills," Schermerhorn said.

Of course, co-op shoppers can re-use bags in ways that avoid plastic altogether, too. The Wedge offers durable and easy-to-clean reusable bags in two different sizes from "Eco-Bags" (small bags are $4.29; large are $4.99). These unbleached, muslin bags have a convenient drawstring tie. No need to wrestle with hard to open or tied up plastic bags any moreĆ¢€”just pack and cinch. These are a great option for bulk items like kidney beans, rice, grains, and produce items like peaches, green beans, potatoes, etc.), but will handle wet produce too; they rinse easily and dry quickly. Eco-Bags are available in our produce department now.

Another good option is the reusable nylon "Chico Bags" in beautiful candy-bright colors. These are lightweight, compact, and expand to carry a lot of groceries. You'll be amazed at how much weight this rip-stop nylon can handle--perfect for wet or frozen groceries. Find these bags at Customer Service and at most registers.

Last in the three-part checklist, Recycle, is a trickier option, according to Schermerhorn, since only a small amount of post-consumer plastic is actually used in creating plastic bags. "If I could find a reliable and consistent source of post-consumer recycled plastic, that would be ideal," Schermerhorn said. "But the 'recovered,' post-industrial resin is a more consistent and reliable source [for bags]. Once we go through our current stock, within eight weeks, the plastic produce bags that the Wedge uses should be made from 100% recovered resin."

The Wedge, NCGA and Puget Sound. Co-op in Seattle continue to research reusable and biodegradable bagging options. Schermerhorn is skeptical of biodegradable plastic bags, however, saying that he believes that the technology isn't there yet. "I don't think [those bags] really degrade in a manner that would be environmentally beneficial. But there's new research all the time, so I'll keep looking at that."

Meanwhile, make a commitment to yourself, the earth and your fellow co-op members by bringing reusable bags for shopping. If we can reduce plastic bag usage, the Wedge's bottom line will go down, making your store more profitable and environmentally friendly at the same time.

written by Barth Anderson
reposted from