Strictly Business: Reusable bags worth the effort

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter


photoCami Joner, Columbian business reporter

I just want all of you grocery store owners to know I like being asked whether I need a bag at the store check-out.

The question puts the burden of environmental consciousness back on yours truly and believe me, I need the reminder. Without it, I might fail to notice my greeting card purchase being slipped into plastic, or worse yet, the plastic-bag suffocation of my already plastic-bagged bread. Do I need a bag? No, I can easily tuck the card in my handbag or carry the bread with bare hands.

I know I should always have my cloth shopping bags handy. And I do — when I remember, like on my once-a-week Saturday grocery excursions.

But I seem to forget to bring the reusable totes on the quick trips, when I'm on the way home from work or dashing out on an errand. That's when I usually realize — at the check stand — the darn reusable bags aren't with me. They're in the trunk of my car or hanging on a nail in the garage.

I'm willing to bet that many of my fellow reusable-bag shoppers have the same problem. Sure, most of us dispose of our plastic properly or even recycle those bags. But the environment pays the price when waste plastic scatters across our landscape. Wildlife also can suffer at the hands of our complacency. Maybe we should think more about fish, birds and mammals as we watch sales associates layering plastic around our purchases.

Maybe that thought would help us speak up and say, "Stop."

Those bags can be really bad for the environment and they can't be easily recycled.

All this makes me wonder why Vancouver hasn't banned grocery merchants from using plastic bags, following the lead of about a dozen other Washington cities, as well as Portland. Surely we are every bit as green as the folks in Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Mukilteo, Port Townsend, Edmonds, Olympia, and now, Issaquah and Lacey — towns that have all banned plastic bags.

I should say the latter two communities have encountered some business opposition against the plastic-bag laws. It's common for the business community to say the bans do more harm than good.

However, more local businesses are starting to offer reusable bags, said Kelly Love Parker, chief executive officer of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. In some instances, bags help the companies market their services and products.

"It's free advertising," she said. "So, they're promoting the local economy."

In addition to the question, "Do you need a bag?," I like when grocers display reusable bags near the check-out. I like the store that takes 5 cents per bag off my grocery total. I like parking-lot signs and door stickers that remind me to bring in my reusable tote.

Some of those local signs are left over from a 2009 class project that encouraged residents to employ reusable bags.

"We worked really closely with the local grocery association and the stores," said Eric Golemo, a participant in the Leadership Clark County project called the "Got Bag Campaign." The effort with 34 area grocery stores involved handing out reusable bags and posting signs to remind shoppers to use them.

Hey, even people who are environmentally conscious need a good swift kick once in a while, whether it comes from a marketing campaign or government.