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Annelle Brown has a cart filled with reusable grocery bags at Kroger on Tuesday. Brown was trying the bags for the first time.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Annelle Brown has a cart filled with reusable grocery bags at Kroger on Tuesday. Brown was trying the bags for the first time.

sack savers

Local grocery stores following environment-conscious trend with reusable shopping bags

By Catherine Godbey 340-2441

Banning smoking in restaurants and bars caused an uproar in Decatur. Could bans against trans-fats at restaurants and plastic bags at grocery stores follow?

Last spring, San Francisco banned major supermarkets from bagging products in non-biodegradable plastic bags, potentially preparing the old phrase "paper or plastic" for extinction.

Local grocery stores are following the environment-friendly trend and providing customers with an alternate option to paper and plastic bags — reusable bags.

Leading the campaign

Kroger and Publix are leading the reusable bag campaign in Decatur. The bags resemble canvas but are made of polypropylene, a form of plastic. They provide customers with the ability to reuse them while also retaining the durability needed to carry a gallon of milk and a 12-pack of soft drinks.

"Where one plastic bag can carry only one milk jug, the reusable bags can hold that milk jug along with butter and cheese and other items," said Jeff Howard, store manager at Kroger.

After two years of displaying the bags, which sell for 99 cents, Kroger recently experienced an increased interest. A heightened awareness of global warming, and the environmental impact of plastic bags spurred the customer interest.

"The bags are definitely gaining in popularity," Howard said. "I see more and more customers with them. Everywhere you look, you see green this, and green that. From the customers I've talked to, they feel like they are helping the environment."

Out of 100 customers, Howard estimates seven to 10 employ the reusable bags. The challenge for Decatur resident Annelle Brown exists in remembering to tote the bags with her.

Reusing plastic bags

"I can use these bags in a lot of different ways, and they are better for the environment, but I still love my plastic bags because I can use them around the house," Brown said.

David Sutton left the grocery store with a cart filled with plastic bags, but like Brown, finds ways to reuse them.

"It (plastic) is the only thing available, but I use them at home to store trash," Sutton said.

"They do eventually make their way to the garbage," he added.

The recent attraction to the bags that Kroger shoppers displayed also occurred at Publix, where keeping the bags stocked creates a supply and demand situation. Decatur's Publix reorders the bags, which sell for $1.49, every two weeks to meet customer demand.

With the inexpensive cost of only half a cent for each plastic bag, the stores are not seeing the financial benefit from fewer.

"In order for us to see a benefit, we would have to have an abundance of customers using the canvas bags," Howard chuckled. "Like 99 percent of the customers."

Even though the financial benefits are not yet apparent, for some scientists the environmental impact outweighs any monetary gain. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the United States discards 380 billion plastic bags each year.

"Using these canvas bags would cut down on the amount of plastic being sent to the landfills, and any time you can cut down on the amount of waste being sent to the landfill it is beneficial," said Laura Niles, EPA regional spokeswoman.

Members of the plastic community, however, dispute the harmful affects of plastic bags on the environment.

"They actually are recyclable," argued Rob Krebs, spokesman for the American Chemistry Council. "They are used to make Trex lumber and more bags. ... To recoup the energy used to make the reusable bags a person would have to use it 50 to 100 times."

Debating the effect of plastic bags on the environment will continue as more cities consider banning the bags and more shoppers turn to the reusable bags.

This environmental debate encompasses grocery shoppers, scientists and fashion designers. After the reusable bag craze exploded in popularity, designers Stella McCartney and Hermes introduced their versions. Selling for $495 and $960 respectively, the bags attract fashion-conscience customers to the environmental movement.

For shoppers attached to their plastic bags, grocery stores, including Publix and Southern Family Markets, offer plastic bag recycling centers on site.

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