Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Non-Reusability of the Re-Usable Eco-Bag

From Steve Madden to Stuart Weitzman to The Strand Bookstore in Union Square, New York City's retailers have jumped on the ecological bandwagon.  How?  By handing customers their purchases in reusable a.k.a eco-bags.  This, of course, does not include the grocery stores, such as Trader Joe's, my local Steve's C Town, and naturally, Whole Foods, which have eco-bags for sale at the counter. 

Or have they?

During a recent cleaning of my closet, I realized that I have quite a collection of these free eco-bags, either from my own or my visiting mother's purchases.  When I mentioned this to my friend, Capucine, she admitted to a comparably grand collection.  Then, we both confessed: of all of our bags, we have re-used maybe five, and not so many times.  

In all fairness, I happen to have several canvas bags and a backpack that I find much sturdier and better on my back.  So, I favor them as my re-usable bags, when I remember them.   

When I remember them.  This is, for the most part, on weekends or when I am leaving from home to run an errand.  As past articles, since November of 2008 to be more precise, on the subject of plastic bag use reduction and eco-bags in New York City have stated, contrary to the suburban population or that of more car-friendly cities, whose members can store bags in trunks, New Yorkers are more "spontaneous" with their errands ( explain).  And, I will add, we run most of them on foot.  So, unless we've had the foresight to store an eco-bag at work or in a handbag or over our shoulder, we will be needing a plastic or paper bag from our place of purchase.

But, what if someone forced us to bring our own?  What if businesses simply stopped offering them to us?  Then, would Capucine and I be more likely to fold up one of our many eco-bags (they do, as a matter of fact, fold down to a size quite capable of unobtrusively fitting into a New York City woman's purse or a man or woman's messenger or gym bag) and have one on hand for a pause at the MetMarket on the way home from work or brunch or Happy Hour?  All hail the 24-hour deli! 

How did the grocery section of Monoprix (a.k.a. in my lingo "French Target") in the also foot-and-bike-friendly city of Strasbourg, France, get their customers to do just that?  During a visit last November, after paying for my purchase, I was handed my change, my item and bid a "Bonne Journée."  There was no bag on offer in sight.  Turning about, I realized, every single person was either making a purchase that they could carry by hand or had a bag with them, and nobody was putting up a fuss. 

So, how did they do it?  Probably very simply in fact.  I imagine they posted a sign stating that plastic bags would no longer be offered after a certain date, and they stuck to it.  Maybe it was a small sign.  But, I bet it was a big one.  Monoprix, even taking into account just its grocery section, is a big store.

But, a small sign could've worked too.  At least the small cardboard one at the cash register at Area Kids in Park Slope, Brooklyn stating, "We are Bagless," worked on me ( On my first visit, I fit my items in my purse.  The second time?  I shrugged at my forgetfulness and carried my item out by hand.  The third?  I took a canvas bag with me.  Now, every time I am bound for Area Kids, I remember a bag, and have it on hand to run all of my other errands.  Go figure.  

Something this simple may not work for every business.  Some purchases are simply too big.  In this case, I turn your attention to the best friends of Home Depot, The Container Store or Ikea: delivery, handles or twine.  What will do no good is businesses continuing to give us paper or plastic bags (or as another friend reminded me after I mentioned my collection to him, often doubled-up plastic bags, because business owners fear being sued should something fall out of a thinner plastic bag and, for example, hurt a customer's toe).  Ah, fodder for the "Only in America" column of The Week!  But, signs, and sticking to what they say, seem to be a step in the right direction.

Whatever the solution is, it's certainly not giving me another free eco-bag. 


Anonymous said...

I like your writing style!

george said...

Hey, really great blog post… I've enjoyed reading through your blog because of the great style and energy. I actually work for the CheapOair travel blog. If you're interested, we would love to have you on as a guest blogger. Please send me an e-mail: gchristodoulou(at)cheapoair(dot)com, and I can give you more information. Looking forward to hearing from you.

B*Star said...

Dublin grocery stores have gone another route - they charge 10 cents each for a plastic bag (and also sell reusable bags at the checkout for a bit more). And it actually seems to work - nearly everyone brings their own resuable bag to the store! I wonder if 10 cents would deter Americans...

PS - My personal recommendation for car-less, citidwelling ladies: Envirosax. They are super sturdy but fold down to a size that fits in your hand, and they're cute enough to use as a "real" handbag. I always keep one in my purse. :-)

Erika Meister said...

George and BStar: Thanks for your comments!

George: I have sent you an email.

BStar: great idea, especially for style-conscious NYC women! Where can I direct some of my friends?