Friday, October 9, 2009

Bag it.

Here’s an unexpected perk that brightened my day:

I just saved $.05. At Target. For taking my reusable bags.

OK, so I also spent about $120 on things like the box of wine I’m taking for our boxed-wine-sampling tonight at book club, a yoga mat for Peter, and some other stuff...

What the heck DID I buy at Target? Do you ever find yourself filling your cart at Target, getting home, and having no idea how you spent $120? Surely I’m not alone in this blatant consumerism...

WAIT! I got cash back. Whew. An $80 Target-spree makes more sense.


Until this morning, I was completely unaware of Target’s policy regarding reusable bags. For every reusable bag you bring and fill, you get $.05 off your bill. Where have I been?

Oh right. I usually don’t take my reusable bags to Target. Oops.

Well, I’m converted.

I’m good about remembering my reusable bags for groceries, but I tend to forget them for other shopping sprees, like Target. Of course, using the same bag for fresh produce from the Farmer’s Market and, say, fire ant poison from Lowe’s is not the wisest idea. In fact, I just read a study in The Wall Street Journal concerning the nasties that can lurk in our reusable bags. I know that I’m not vigilant about washing my reusable bags, but I can assure you--they’re having a bath. Today. I’m also dividing the bags into two piles: food only and “other.”

A kind of funny--or, actually, sad--thing happened last week when I was checking out at Publix. I, of course, was chatting with my favorite cashier and fumbling around for my debit card while the young bagger guy was trying to fit my groceries into my reusable bags. After I swiped my card, I noticed that he had pre-bagged many items into plastic bags--and then put them into the reusable bags! Now, I do put meat into a plastic bag first--sorry, just don’t want to risk e-coli for my family. But bananas? Popsicles? An individual plastic bag for each San Pelligrino bottle? (This was before Peter gave it up.) I explained that our family is trying to cut down on plastic bag consumption, and could he please take my purchases out of the plastic bags?

With a dramatic sigh, he un-bagged and re-bagged. Of course, the line of customers behind me was growing...and I felt some withering looks aimed at the back of my head.

The problem is not just the shopping bags we use--and we use a lot of bags. In fact:
  • The average American uses between 350-500 bags each year--that’s 100 billion bags.
  • It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce all of those shopping bags.
  • Only one percent are recycled.
  • More than one million birds and 100,000 sea turtles die each year due to ingesting plastic bags--a plastic bag floating in the ocean sure looks a lot like a jellyfish to a hungry turtle.
Some countries, like Switzerland, expect customers to bring their own bags. I remember my surprise when we had to buy a plastic bag for a purchase at a grocery store. Other countries, like Ireland, impose taxes on plastic bags. Ireland decreased plastic shopping bag consumption by 90% since 2002, reducing overall plastic bag usage by 1.08 billion.

Even communities in the US are fighting the shopping bag war. The Los Angeles City Council recently voted to ban plastic shopping bags from stores, beginning July 1, 2010. Shoppers will need to bring their own bags or pay 25 cents for a paper or biodegradable bag.

Still, I think it’s interesting that we’re so focused on plastic shopping bags. Yes, we need to reduce our dependence on and disposal of plastic shopping bags.

But what about those plastic produce bags?

I can’t avoid them--even at the Farmer’s Market. This week alone, I accumulated 11 produce bags. Ack! Why isn’t anyone launching an assault on plastic produce bags?

Alternative produce bags are available--online. I tried to find reusable produce bags in our area--to no avail. Even when I called Whole Foods, the person I spoke with had no idea what a reusable produce bag was.

So, I’ve ordered a set of organic cotton drawstring bags from a website called I know what you’re thinking--the bags will add weight to your produce, and you’ll end up paying more for your food. The cool thing about these bags is--there is a tag attached to the bag that states the weight of the bag so the cashier can tare the scale. Now, how well will this system work when I try to buy some snow peas at Publix? Will the bagger put my organic produce bags into plastic shopping bags? Will they offer me the penny item of bottled water???

Stay tuned...

And--if you know of other stores that offer incentives for shoppers to bring their own bags, please share! I believe Whole Foods offers $.05, but I’m not aware of others.

I’m off to plan my potager--our weekend project. What is a potager? Well, my friends, you’ll have to tune in to find out!


  1. $80. That's how much I spend EVERY time I walk into a Target store. I can't go often!

  2. Hey, I just got a nickel back from bringing my reusable bag to Target this week too! I assumed it was just Targets in the eco-friendly Bay Area. It's nice to hear that Target is encouraging reusable bags everywhere.

    By the way, I write the blog Fake Plastic Fish, which is all about reducing our plastic use. I bring cloth produce bags to the farmers market (which I wash) or put my produce into my reusable canvas bag "naked." I think the worst germ probs were found with those woven plastic reusable bags. If we stick with washable fabrics like canvas, and actually wash them, we should be okay.

    I'm writing an article for about plastic-free produce markets and found your blog while Googling "plastic farmers market."


  3. Oops. When I left my comment, I obviously had not read far enough in your post. Kudos for ordering cloth produce bags!

  4. Okay, this is absolutely the last comment from me, I swear. Just wanted you to know that I'm going to link to your post in my article, which will be published later today.