Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Paying for the convenience

Yummy plastic bagI'm not sure whether this will pass the City Council this year, but Seattle mayor Greg Nickels has proposed a 20 cent fee for all disposable bags (paper or plastic) at grocery, convenience and drug stores. If approved, the charge would go into effect on January 1st.

Retailers would keep five cents of the fee to cover the cost of implementing the charge and small businesses that gross less than $1 million a year can keep the entire fee. At this time, the fee would not apply to produce bags or other small bags. Apparently, Seattle residents go through 360 million disposable bags a year, or 600 bags per person.

Yummy styrofoam containerNickels also has proposed banning plastic and foam food containers. The proposed ban on foam containers used by the food service industry would include such items as plates, trays, "clamshells" and hot and cold beverage cups used at restaurants, delicatessens, fast food outlets and coffee shops, and meat trays and egg cartons used at grocery stores. The legislation would also require that by July 1, 2010, all food service businesses currently using disposable plastic or plastic-coated paper products to convert to packaging that is compostable or locally recyclable.

The two proposals are part of the city's "zero-waste" strategy to increase recycling and reduce trash. Although plastic bags aren't outright banned (like they are in San Francisco) it's likely that people will switch to reusable so they don't have to pay the fee. It's about time.

Which do you think is better? Charging a nominal fee or outright banning disposable bags?

31 comments:

Susan said...

I think banning them is the best way to go. I have a healthy supply of reusable bags, and I forget to take them to the store at least a third of the time (if the store sells reusables, I usually buy more at the time - eventually I'll have so many they'll be impossible to miss). I think the only way people will really remember will be if they have no alternative. After all, I'm already paying a large fee every time I go to the store (the reusable's the store sells are $1 each) and it hasn't changed my behavior completely.

Which reminds me that I should round up those bags for the grocery store trpi this afternoon.

Anonymous said...

I read an article a while back about someplace that instituted a fee structure like this (somewhere in Europe, I think; possibly Sweden or Germany?)... they found that the imposition of a fee was far more effective in changing people's behavior than a refund for bringing your own bags (no surprise there, I suppose) and that it alienated the public less than an outright ban...

As an aside, your post noted "At this time, the fee would not apply to produce bags or other small bags" -- which makes me wonder: what do you (and the other readers) do when it comes to these small produce bags? Not use them at all? Use them judiciously? Bring small reusables to the store as well as the big ones for packing home your groceries? Something else entirely?

Megan said...

That's a good question, anon. As I was preparing dinner last night I threw away two produce bags and thought to myself that we needed to do something to avoid that waste.

For produce sold based on weight, however, bringing your own bag might result in higher prices, or you'd have to take your produce out of the bag to be weighed on the filthy little scale - what a hassle!

N. & J. said...

I'll for banning them all but I think that there needs to be a period of time for places to switch over so they don't end up just junking their extras into the trash. I also think that the government needs to provide a list of options for businesses and maybe considering providing some initial money especially to small businesses to implement this.

maryann said...

I'm all for a large fee, providing when it goes into effect they offer the public the ability to purchase reusable bags for a slightly lesser or equivalent fee. I bring my own bags when I shop and have been for a few years. I have produce ones also and one for the wine store, all purchased from reusablebags.com. I get quite a few compliments on them from the cashiers and baggers.

Segwyne said...

I wanted to vote two ways, but could only do one. I am all for banning plastic bags, but I would charge a large fee for paper ones. I believe paper has a lesser impact than plastic because it is at least bio-degradable. My local supermarket gives a nominal (5 cent) refund for bringing your own. I made my own, but they also sell them there for $1.50.

Segwyne said...

For produce priced by weight in regard to produce bags, I know that the scale where we weigh out bulk foods has a tare button on it. You place your bag on the scale empty, press tare, then fill your bag, weigh it and print the label. I suppose that wouldn't work for things that don't get labels printed, though.

You could make up some produce bags out of some lightweight fabric like muslin. They extra weight would be nominal and should only result in an extra couple of cents at most.

just me said...

Being originally from Seattle, I can't tell you how happy Mayor Nickels' plan makes me. My parents, who still live there, go through copious amounts of plastic bags, but refuse to accept the reusable bags I've offered to send to them. My mom insists they "need" their multitude of plastic bags to line their small trash cans, which leaves me wondering how many small trash cans two people could possibly be using.

I didn't vote in the poll, because I have no idea which incentive would work best. I'm curious to read others' ideas about it, though.

Suze said...

There has recently been quite a commotion in Australia about this issue. The government suggested a small charge and it was escalating wildly. The talk stopped. Some stores charge. For instance Borders charges about 20 cents for a biodegrable bag and all the money goes to preventing plastic bags in the marine environment. Aldi is bring or buy bags. Some hardware stores are similar. I have quite a collection of bags now and still seem to accumulate plastic. I try to say no but since I always do huge shops I worry about proving in which store I bought an item when going through the security stuff.

Macdonald's were stopped from using foam type packaging before they were allowed to trade in Tasmania. I haven't seen it in years though I am sure it is still around.

Some ladies I know go so far as to sew smaller bags for their produce and bulk purchases. Some stores will deduct the weight of your container. I remember, as a child, that people used to take their own containers to the local Chinese shop when purchasing a meal. It isn't such a bad idea.

Christy said...

I've been using my own bags for over a year. If I forget my bag, I just go without a bag. A few times of juggling too many items to the car taught me that lesson quickly! I use a small cloth bag for produce, I'm sure it adds a little to the weight of what I'm buying but it isn't that much so I don't sweat it.

TftCarrie said...

I'm also not sure what would work best, but as for the produce bag question, these bags are great from etsy (and I'm not affiliated with the maker at all). They are lightweight, see through, strong, and not too expensive.

ruralaspirations said...

I think plastic grocery bags should just be banned. Some people think you NEED them for certain things, but I tried to dispel that myth in a post I wrote on the subject.

http://tinyurl.com/5us5tv

cindy24 said...

I have not used produce bags for probably 10 years. I just pile all my items in the cart and the cashier just puts them all on the scale - naked. This has never been a problem and no cashier has ever complained.

Ashley said...

Susan - Yes, but is it better to have to a reusable cloth bag every time you forget your own bags or to get a few paper ones that you can reuse to hold recycling or newspapers? Eventually, we'll just have TONS of reusable bags that we don't use or need.

I feel like Seattle is on the right track...People don't want to spend money. (Although I sure LOVE getting a bit of change for bringing my own bags!)

homebrewlibrarian said...

I actually refuse bags in stores particularly if I only have an item or two. Otherwise I bring my own. The cashiers at the natural food grocery I always go to just look at me now and say "that's right, you've got your own bags."

The worst offender for plastic bags in my life is Full Circle Farm CSA in Washington. I get a box of their fruits and vegies every other week and most of the produce will be in either brown paper or plastic produce bags. Then they put all those bags in ANOTHER big bag inside the box! Even though I never ask for bags I still end up with them!

I too have more reusable bags (both cloth and plastic) than I'll ever need - even if I was doing a major stocking up run!

Kerri in AK

Joyce said...

Banning things just makes people react angrily. I think charging $.20 cause most people to change their ways, but still allow someone who has forgotten to bring their reusable bags with them, to proceed with their purchase. Both the consumer and the store would feel that they were given reasonable options.

organicneedle said...

Ikea just started doing the charge per bag thing about a month ago. It will be interesting to see if it actually results in fewer bags being used.

As for produce bags...how can I resist...I make produce bags out of organic cotton mesh. You can link to them through my name. Shameless self-promotion yes...but with a good purpose. :)

hoorayparade said...

what about doing both? giving back five cents for people whi bring bags. and charging the people who don't?

would that just end up being counter productive if too many people switched over?

LifeLessPlastic said...

I chose $.20 because as we just learned from IKEA's little experiment, that would definitely be enough to motivate people to go without a bag or bring their own. Then once people get used to the charge and start bringing their own bags, you instate a ban (just like IKEA did). That way everyone has had time to adjust first.

By the way, in Germany bags always cost money, maybe $.15 or $.30 per bag, and almost no one uses them. This proves again that people just aren't interested in spending their hard earned money on bags.

Robj98168 said...

I can't believe Boss Hogg (Nickels) came up with this all by hisself. There must be a poll out in Seattle saying we need this kind of legislation. Personally, I think the city should give 2 reusable bags to each household. Then everyone has the bags and no one has an excuse. I think they should outright ban throwaway bags in Seattle and hopefully border cities (like Burien) will follow suit.

JenRob said...

I think this is a great idea. I've taken a lot of time this year to do "spring cleaning" around my neighborhood and pick up litter. The three items I find most often are glass bottles, aluminum cans, and disposable beverage containers from fast food and gas stations. Unfortunately, the plastic containers from fast food and gas stations are generally made from the some of the worst types of plastics - #3-7.

I would totally support a ban on all of these items.

For those of you who are wondering how to do away with plastic produce bags, I use cloth drawstring bags for wet or easily damaged items like herbs or lettuce, and I made some crocheted drawstring bags for bulkier items like apples. The crocheted bags work really well because they are elastic, washable, and they have holes to see through so the cashier can find the codes on what I'm buying. If you are interested, there are tons of free online patterns for crocheted bags.

ANewDay said...

TftCarrie those bags from Remarket on Etsy are the same ones I use for my produce and some bulk. I love them.

I think the .20 charge for the bags and a refund for those who bring their own is the best option.

What We Need is Here said...

I'm for banning too. We know the problems with plastic. It seems healthy - both environmentally and mentally - to act on the things you know.

The Green Panther said...

I'm with Joyce. I can just hear Rush Limbaugh and his ilk complaining about how them "gol-dam LIBRELS" won't let people use bags anymore. *Gah*

Maybe a graduated fee -- 20 cents to begin with; then, in a few years, the people who still haven't gotten the memo can pay $1. They can still have their bags; they'll just have to pay dearly for them.

I would predict at $1 a pop, support for total elimination would then be much stronger. 'Course, I could be wrong. Wouldn't be the first time.

I heart my cloth bags. It's so nice not to worry about watching your milk break through the flimsy plastic and bite the dust on the pavement.

Niffer said...

I voted for a small fee. I also agree that an out and out ban would cause too much resistance to stick. I'm also guilty of buying new bags when I forget mine (gotta love those .99 "green bags"), but I solve having too many by giving them away. This past Christmas, I didn't use any wrapping paper all gifts went into reusable grocery bags stuffed with shredded paper (my mom loved it and has started using them, yay! baby steps).

Rosa said...

Yeah, it seems like a good impulse-buy opportunity for stores to have the reusable bags.

I'm another buyer of naked produce at the grocery store. You're going to wash that stuff before you eat it anyway, right?

And we switched CSAs this year because the CSA we were with last year put lots of things in individual plastic bags. I don't know what market they were going for with that, or what their reasoning was, but it sucked, so we switched.

ctdaffodil said...

I try to take my own bags. I used to shop at a super inexpensive store that charged you for bags. I think it was 5 cents each. I used to try and remember my bags then but usually forgot. Now I keep some of the canvas ones in the car - even if I have more groceries than will fit in the bag - thats atleast a few that I am not using - and I do reuse the plastic ones too.

Grant said...

I despise the very thought of a ban on bags (or anything else, for that matter). This is not the proper role of government and we should not be punishing everyone for the deeds of the few (or even the many).

My wife and I live in the Puget Sound region and have been using reusable cloth bags for quite a while now. It didn't take a ban, a fee, or a refund to get us to switch.

Getting people to rid themselves of bad habits, such as using throwaway bags, should not require the use of force against them. Offer people a better alternative and let them know why it's better. People will do the right thing if it's good for them and makes financial sense.

Erikka said...

not sure if this is national, but I saw a whole foods banner stating they had STOPPED carrying any plastic or paper bags. anyone without reuseables would have to purchase theirs at the counter. Now that is revolutionary and more of what I think needs to happen to see a change.

Miss Kris said...

I would love to see plastic bags banned, but I think it's too radical at this time. Let's start with charging at least $.20 per bag and go from there.

I've been using canvas bags for years and never have the issue of forgetting them when I go to the store. Once it's an ingrained habit, it's hard to forget. My worry with reusable bags being the only option: I personally know people who will buy the reusable bags pretty much every time they go to the store. Will those reusable bags get reused? Likely not. They will be thrown away. One friend that I have in mind who would do just this recently moved out of a house that she had been living in for 2 years with her husband. She had to hire someone to haul away 1/2 ton of 'trash'. When they had moved out of their prior house, she had 2 TONS of 'trash' hauled away. I even offered to go through all of the stuff to freecycle the items with value, but she felt that would be too much of a hassle.

Her mindset regarding throwing stuff 'away' isn't rare in the U.S. I think it can be changed, but it's going to take a lot of time. In the meantime, what about providing bags that have less of an impact to produce and are biodegradable?

Beany said...

I picked charging a large fee. I think Sweden (or another EU country, can't remember) charged a large fee for bags and immediately saw a huge drop in plastic bag usage.

Before I knew anything about plastic and used to shop at Aldi's, I loaded my groceries into a shopping cart because the bags cost too much.

Erikka: Whole Foods in Philadelphia has quit using plastic bags for loading groceries. I would also like to see a reduction in plastic bags being used for packaging like yogurt, tofu, etc. But its a step in the right direction.

In Philly, the plastic ban proposal didn't go anywhere last fall.

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