Grocery Bag Program Targets Waste

Sentinel Staff Writer
    Grocery stores and the Sitka Global Warming Group have kicked off a program  to loan out heavy duty shopping bags to reduce the number of disposable plastic bags used in Sitka.
    “I’ve been trying out ways to use less plastic bags,” said project organizer Michelle Putz, leader of the ad hoc Sitka Global Warming Group. “This seemed like a good starting point: to make reusable bags more available, easier to use.”
    “Bag libraries” – boxes full of reusable bags – have been placed at AC Lakeside and Sea Mart, on Halibut Point Road. Customers are invited to take their groceries home in a reusable bag, made of canvas, nylon or other washable material, then wash them and return them when they’re done.
    Putz collected more than 130 tote bags to get the project off the ground, and the grocery stores and other businesses donated a few more. The “libraries” sit near the door for customers to pick up.
    As inventories dwindle, Putz hopes Sitkans will continue donating, or just return the washed bags they borrowed.
    The goal is to help out people who normally use their own canvas or nylon shopping bags but forget them from time to time, and to introduce the concept of reusable bags to shoppers who haven’t tried it before.
    The practice is common in other states in such places as natural food stores and food co-ops, Putz said.
    She approached Roger Hames, owner of Sea Mart, and AC Lakeside branch manager Bob Burnett, who were happy to try out the idea.
    “I was pleasantly surprised that the idea was one of merit and could be a good thing from the standpoint of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ and could help keep costs lower by not passing on the costs of plastic bags,” Hames said. “If we can buy less supplies, hopefully we can pass it on to the consumer.”
    He said the plastic bags the store makes available at the checkout stands are the cheapest of the disposable bag options, but that they are still an expense. He estimated each one costs between 5 and 10 cents apiece.
    “This idea appealed to me,” Hames said. He presented it to his staff, who were equally enthusiastic about trying the concept.
    “I hope it works,” Hames said. “It’s something we’re happy to participate in. I hope it’s used, and accepted widely by the community of Sitka.”
    Burnett was equally pleased to participate in the program.
    “I think it’s going to be fantastic, especially the ‘holding power’ the reusable bags have,” he said. “You can really load those bags up. ... Then there’s the environmental aspect. Plastic bags can goof up everything.”
    Putz said the concept is already catching on, with Sea Mart running low on its supply by Monday.
    “I’m hoping it means people are actually starting to use the reusable bags that weren’t before,” she said. “We definitely have to collect more bags.”
    Putz said one of the reasons she thought of the bag library was following Juneau’s failed efforts to implement a tax on plastic shopping bags in 2011.
    “One of the concerns was that low-income people were impacted by it,” Putz said. “If people don’t have (their own bags), and can use them, I don’t mind giving them away – I’m hoping they’ll come back in with the bag.”
    Putz said lthe bags should be washed before they are brought back in for re-use.
    Putz said the “bag library” concept should work unless people forget to bring them back. She said she also hopes that checkout clerks will help the program get started by offering customers the reusable bag option.
    Those with questions may call Putz at 747-2708.

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