Make up your mind, stores: Use a plastic bag or don’t

Retailers brainstorm on new alternatives for plastic bags

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Photo credit: Create Her Stock

If you’ve been inside an essential retail store in the past five months (instead of ordering online), then you already know that grocers are sending mixed messages when it comes to plastic bags. Whole Foods Market and Target stopped issuing their $0.10-off and $0.05-off discounts for bringing your own bags (BYOB) at checkout. In Chicago’s Roger’s Park neighborhood (and possibly more), the Whole Foods location was so strict about not bringing in plastic bags that security would make people leave any plastic bags near the front entrance doors to collect when consumers exited.

This was a noticeable business redirection from their more eco-friendly options in years’ prior, encouraging consumers to not use one-use plastic bags. Both store chains mentioned above, along with other retailers, even sold reusable bags at the front registers.

As of March 2020 and beyond, consumers were required to use stores’ onetime use bags because of the worldwide coronavirus health outbreak. Although the United States has passed the 4 million mark in coronavirus infections and almost 144K deaths as of this publication date, retailers are back at it again and trying to find ways to decrease onetime-use plastic bags. They’re also allowing the money-off discounts again while they figure out new bag alternatives.

According to Closed Loop Partners, the Beyond the Bag initiative — launched by the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag — is a “multi-year collaboration across retail sectors that aims to identify, test and implement innovative new design solutions that serve the function of today’s single-use plastic retail bag, delivering ease and convenience for consumers while striving to lessen the impact on the environment.”

Founding partners include CVS Health, Target, Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens and IDEO, with environmental advisory partners Conservation International and Ocean Conservancy. Is the partnership worth it? Environmentally friendly consumers would say so, considering 100 billion single-use plastic bags are used per year in the United States. Plus, the average lifespan of a plastic use bag will outlive its consumers — as in each plastic bag could live up to 1,000 years.

Of course Bob Vila already has some ideas for how to make plastic bags work to a person’s advantage. Painters can keep the bag in the fridge to avoid paint drying out, or use the same bag on the roller for a textured paint appearance on the wall. Gardeners can use the bags to protect their plants against overnight frost. And of course plastic bags come in particularly handy for pet waste and alternatives to traditional small garbage bags.

When Ireland implemented their 5p PlasTax (about $0.07) in 2003, the country saw a 90 percent reduction in their use. Sometimes it works in the United States, too. In San Jose, California, for example, “a ban on single-use plastic and a [$0.10] fee for paper resulted in a bag litter reduction of approximately 89 percent in the storm drain system.” In addition to inspiration to ditch the bag tax, when people are aware of how to recycle plastic and locate plastic bag dumpster areas (ex. Kohl’s Customer Service areas), then it’s easier to properly discard the bags. However, during a time when consumers are shying away from retail stores and can no longer safely dump or reuse plastic bags, this puts them in a bit of a bind.

On one hand, they may order grocery and household items online more, which means they’re using less plastic. Or, if they do use plastic, they know which of the 1–7 labeled options are safe to reuse and/or recycle. On the other hand, with online retailers such as Amazon — an online retailer that has a habit of using an excessive amount of packaging material and boxes — they’re replacing one type of waste with another.

With the recent news of Beyond the Bag, hopefully consumers will find an easier way to partner with retailers to figure out how to get their shopping items home — safe, sound and greener than when they left.

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Check out her five Medium publications: Doggone World, Homegrown, I Do See Color, Tickled and We Need to Talk. Visit to read about her.

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