"Thousands of jostling, combative women began lining up at 2 a.m. at Sainsbury’s stores one night for the chance to buy £ 5 shopping bags that had been advertised in various fashion magazines and were printed with the words "I am not a plastic bag,"  according to Sarah Lyall, author of The Anglo Files.  It helped that trendsetter actress Kiera Knightly (who we assume did not stand in line to get hers) was photographed carrying one of the popular “green” bags.

 Of course the rather self-righteous “I am not a plastic bag" movement led to some humorous counter attacks:  “I’m just a stupid bag,”  “I’m a very cheap bag,” and my favorite: “I am not a smug twat.”  


The plastic bag manufacturers have also fired a counterattack with “I am a plastic bag and I’m 100% recyclable” and “I am a plastic bag, use me responsibly.”  They point out that making paper bags consume trees, and that the water and air pollution created to make paper bags can be higher than manufacturing a plastic bag.


The debate about whether to offer plastic bags to our customers is a hot topic for retailers, because we are expected to offer some kind of bag for those who don’t come prepared with their own cloth “I am not” bag.  Plastic bags have taken over from paper in many parts of the world, and yet there are now states — and countries — considering banning their use.


No one really doubts that plastic bags are bad for the environment, compared to no bag at all.  The question is whether the resources used in manufacturing paper bags carries a lighter environmental cost.  Paper is, of course, biodegradable, and plastic is in most cases not.  But both types of bags use water and other natural resources in their manufacture, and fuel to transport them (in the case of plastic bags, often from China).


What’s a retailer to do? One option is to offer your own reusable bag, just like the major chains are doing. If you make the design attractive enough, your customers will advertise for you whenever they reuse the bag.  We are currently having inexpensive non-woven fabric bags made that we plan to offer as an option to a plastic shopping bag this holiday season for a charge of $1.50 or so.


We can also encourage our employees to ask whether a bag is really needed, since many customers don’t really need a bag to transport their purchase.  You might also want to follow the lead of retailers who offer a small reward for customers who bring in their own bag. Trader Joe’s, our new neighbor on Monroe Street, gives customers a little raffle ticket to fill in when they use their own bag. The tickets go into a fish bowl for a periodic prize drawing — but the real winner is the environment. One less bag, plastic or paper, is a good thing.


Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder