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In the Bag – Reusable Grocery Totes Replacing Paper, Plastic

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0228homespunweb.jpgRISMEDIA, Feb. 28, 2008-(MCT)-Paper or plastic? Neither, thank you. That’s what eco-savvy consumers are saying these days when they go shopping. They’re shunning both in favor of BYOB-bring your own bag.

Some of the bags are as plain as a can of generic peas. Others are as arty as a museum piece. But they all have one thing in common: They’re meant to save trees, oil and the Earth.

At least that’s the most noble motivation. But people add other reasons for casting aside paper and plastic. Those flimsy plastic bags won’t stay upright in your car. The paper ones tear, sending your groceries onto the garage floor and shattering your expensive olive oil. And they all tend to end up as household clutter.

Maxine Salas, shopping at a Colorado Springs, Colo., King Soopers recently, was toting around a half-dozen recyclable bags she bought at the store. She got them, she says, because she hates having a lot of plastic around the house and in the environment. She’s been using them for a couple of weeks, and she’s already smitten.

“They have more cushion,” she says. “They have zippers so groceries don’t fall out, and they don’t fall over in the car.”

Kerri Olivier is another fan of the reusable bag, mostly for the same reasons.

“I’m not the queen of recycling, but I do this,” she says. “I always had a closet full of crumpled plastic bags. I’m not sorry to be done with them.”

She’s bought a few reusable bags that didn’t hold up, but she’s happy with her most recent purchase: a Whole Foods bag made of recycled materials, which holds a lot of groceries, she says, cleans easily and has handles that are long enough to tote on her shoulder.

She also likes the color-blue, with a green apple design. It’s just one of the many stylish bags that have come on the market, trying to appeal not only to shoppers’ environmental sensibilities, but their fashion sensibilities as well.

Yes, you can still get a basic (boring) beige canvas number. But you can get them in just about any color imaginable, whether solid, patterned or adorned with clever sayings.

You can get them in material made from potato and corn starches, or from recycled plastic. If you’re feeling artistic, you can get a decorate-your-own version at crafts stores.

And you can get them at a price for every pocketbook, from Italian designer Conseulo Castiglioni’s $843 silk grocery tote that folds to the size of a wallet to Ikea’s 59-cent Big Blue Bag.

Not even the once-popular paper bag passes muster anymore. Environmentalists argue that trees are sacrificed and paper mills pollute.

Plastic bags, though, take most of the heat. More than a trillion are used worldwide every year-100 billion of them in the United States-and it takes hundreds of years for them to decompose in landfills, environmentalists say. As a result, China and Ireland, and, closer to home, San Francisco, require that larger grocery stores and pharmacies use paper bags or compostable plastic bags.

No wonder the reusable tote bag is having its day in the spotlight, even though it’s been around for years, mostly for traveling, taking lunches to work and returning books to the library.

“We like to think we had one of the original canvas grocery bags,” says Pamela Jones, senior developer with Maine-based L.L. Bean, whose “Boat and Tote” was created in 1944 to carry ice to summer camps, and groceries to off-shore islands. Now people buy it for their urban grocery shopping.

“It holds a lot of soup cans,” Jones says.

Many competing brands are being made specifically for groceries, with flat bottoms, tall sides and long handles. And there are a lot out there.

Most grocery stores have their own branded versions. They’ve also proliferated online at such sites as Denver-based delight.com and reusablebags.com, the latter of which features a counter that flashes the number of plastic bags used this year-more than 74 billion and counting, the last time we looked.

Just one word of advice: If you spring for reusable bags, don’t forget to grab them when you go shopping, says Salas. She keeps hers in a hallway where she’ll see them when she goes out the door.

Retailers are making it easier to leave plastic behind.

Some examples:

Starting April 22, Whole Foods will no longer use plastic grocery bags. And they’ll give a nickel refund off the grocery bill for every recyclable bag you use (or you can have them donate the money to local schools).

They’ll continue to use biodegradable paper bags, or you can get one of their reusable bags, which range from $1 to $15.

King Soopers sells reusable bags for 99 cents ($2.99 for the insulated ones), and gives you a 5-cent rebate per bag each time you use one.

Last year, IKEA U.S. started charging customers a nickel to use plastic bags. Proceeds go to American Forests, a conservation organization. IKEA estimates that the policy will cut the use of plastic bags at its stores by at least 50%. Added incentive: IKEA’s Big Blue Bag sells for 59 cents and can be reused hundreds of times.

Bagging Tips

Here are some tips from reusablebags.com on how to become a more eco-friendly shopper:
- Pledge to use your own reusable bags and persuade your friends to do the same.
- If you buy reusable bags, use them: Put a note on top of your grocery list reminding you to take the bags with you to the market.
- Persuade stores to offer credit for using your own bag.
- Realize that paper is not necessarily a better alternative. Trees must be cut down, and paper mills can pollute.
- If you belong to an environmental or community organization, lobby to have the plastic bag issue added to the agenda.

© 2008, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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