An end to the plastic grocery bag.
They are everywhere: white, brown and blue; covered in logos: stop & shop, shaw’s, star market, whole foods. The cupboard under my sink is full of them, there could be hundreds in there, thousands even. They are of course the ever-present plastic grocery bags. The plastic grocery bag or PGB is an icon of disposable convenience and worldwide environmental degradation.
1977, The plastic grocery bag is introduced to the supermarket industry as a cheap, durable alternative to paper sacks. Cheap as in, takes less than 1 cent to produce, and durable as in, takes hundreds or thousands of years before a bag breaks down… into tiny toxic bits which seep into soils, lakes, rivers and oceans.
Since then, according to the American Plastics Council, they have captured at least 80 percent of the grocery and convenience store market. Data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that somewhere between 500 billion and 1 trillion PGBs are consumed worldwide each year (around 1 million per minute).
They are literally everywhere: they carry your groceries home, you stuff them all in one and hang it from the pantry door, you shove them all into a cabinet under the sink, they line your bathroom trash bins, they carry your clothes to the gym, they carry your lunch to work. What’s more unfortunate is that they also: clutter landfills, flap from trees, float in the breeze, clog roadside drains, drift in the oceans, get mistaken for food and kill wildlife.
There are a number of proposed solutions to the PGB problem being implemented in various parts of the world: in Ireland plastic bags are taxed by .20, which has led to a 95% reduction in use, and a few savvy PGB manufacturers are beginning to manufacture a bio-degradable alternative.
Here in the U.S., in Boston specifically, my girlfriend and I have been trying everything to moderate our use of PGBs. We reuse them for as much as possible of course, but more importantly, we bring plastic bags (and book bags) back to the store for reuse. (Whole Foods gives a nickel for every bag reused.) I’ve noticed a considerable drop in our PGB use, and the number of bags floating around our apartment has dropped considerably. But there are still those times when you are out and you stop for some groceries, and before you know it you have 3 bags, 8 bags, 12 bags.
What I’d like to explore is a deposit scheme for getting and returning grocery bags. I’ll focus on a more durable, reusable bag and the system surrounding its reuse. I’m thinking of a check-in, check-out method for managing the reuse or return of a store-branded bag. Consumers needing bags must forfeit a small deposit (added to their grocery bill) for each bag, to check them out. When the customer returns he or she may reuse the bags at no charge or return them and have his or her deposit refunded.
And… go. (Any and all feedback is appreciated)