Retailers push reusable bags to save money, environment

ByABC News
September 16, 2007, 4:34 PM

PROVIDENCE -- When Katrina Gamble goes grocery shopping, she brings her list and her bags a pair of sturdy canvas bags she bought a few months ago for $4.99 at her local grocery store.

"It works just as well," said Gamble, 30, a political science professor at Brown University, adding, "It's better for the environment."

A growing number of stores are catering to customers like Gamble, who see reusing shopping bags as an easy way to cut down on waste.

Several large retailers, including Stop & Shop, New England's largest food retailer, and housewares store Ikea, now sell reusable shopping bags. Some groceries, including independent stores and natural foods chain Whole Foods, go a step further, offering credits of a few cents for each bag that's reused.

There's an upside for stores, too: Giving out fewer bags means the store saves money.

The fashion world has also taken note, with designers like Stella McCartney and Hermes selling reusable shopping bags for hundreds of dollars. Whole Foods created a frenzy in New York recently when it offered a limited number of designer shopping bags for $15.

The Sierra Club's Sierra magazine estimates that Americans throw away almost 100 billion plastic bags each year and only 1% to 3% are recycled. Environmentalists warn paper is not much better than plastic because trees have to be cut down and energy expended to make them.

They also say cutting back a little could make a big difference. The Sierra Club estimated that if every person in New York City used one less grocery bag per year, it would reduce waste by 5 million pounds and save $250,000 on disposal.

Several companies give incentives for customers to cut down on disposable bags.

Eastside Marketplace, an independent grocer in Providence where Gamble shops, gives customers a 3-cent-per-bag credit when they reuse a bag. Even with the credit, the store saves a few pennies or breaks even because it doesn't have to pay for a disposable shopping bag, said spokeswoman Kim Moreau. About 7% to 10% of customers reuse bags, she said.