My grocery store trips have usually been rushed affairs, and I rarely have taken notice of other customers’ purchases or shopping practices. Recently, however, Clean Fairfax was
designated as Whole Foods’ recipient for a Nickels for Nonprofits campaign (through January 15), whereby shoppers could donate the five cents returned to them for each reusable tote bag to Clean Fairfax. As part of this campaign, I set up a table to distribute both reusable tote bags and reusable produce bags for two hours at each of the five Whole Foods in Fairfax County.
What I found surprised me. My assumption was that most Whole Foods customers, already a select group of grocery shoppers leaning heavily towards the more environmentally aware, would have their own reusable tote bags. I expected to hand out more reusable produce bags, small washable net bags to replace the plastic bags used for produce and bulk items, since these are less known than the totes.
Instead, very few customers actually brought reusable totes, though many admitted to having a cache of these at home or in the car. Also, of the several hundred people I interacted with, only a handful had ever heard of the reusable produce bags let alone owned any— and none had brought them to the store to do their shopping.
I have recently begun paying more attention when I shop at Shoppers, Giant, and Safeway, more typical grocery stores. The majority of customers are still going for the plastic bags—and the research shows that most of those are not recycled. According to Worldwatch Institute, every year, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags, which can clog drains, crowd landfills, and create a litter problem.
There is no reason why the reusable totes—and smaller net produce bags— cannot also be used not only at the grocery store but also when making purchases at drugstores, clothing stores, shoe stores, etc. It just has to become a habit.
As indicated in a previous blog, reusable bags are only of value when they are used a lot. TreeHugger, a sustainability website, sums it up as follows:
“What ultimately matters is if you actually use your reusable bags, or if you collect them dutifully from vendors and at conferences but then forget them at home every time you go to the store. If you can commit to using your canvas bag 171 times, or something like a Chicobag eleven times or more, then you have made a good decision. If you can’t commit to this, chose plastic over paper bags, reuse the bags at the store, repurpose them as trash can liners, and recycle the rest at your local grocery store.”
Earth911 has posted “5 Ways to Create a Waste-Free Grocery Shopping Trip.” Their suggestions include using reusable tote AND produce bags, bringing jars/containers for bulk items, purchasing items with minimal packaging, and, perhaps most important of all, developing an organization system that helps you remember your bags and containers when going to the grocery store.
You can read the full post here: