My baggage with reusable bags

Press releases flood into my e-mail inbox on a regular basis and I spend a good amount of time sifting through them, trying to decide which ones deserve attention.

A recent release from Fred Meyer got me thinking about the reusable grocery bag craze.

“Based on data gathered at store registers during check-out, Fred Meyer customers brought a reusable bag to the check stand 12 million more times in 2008 than they did in 2007,” the press release said. “Fred Meyer Stores ordered 14 million fewer plastic bags in 2008 than in 2007, diverting approximately 20 tons of plastic bags from landfills in 2008. In addition, the grocery chain purchased 2.2 million fewer paper bags in 2008 than it did in 2007.”

Phew. That’s a lot of numbers.

I’m a reusable bag-toting shopper myself, so I’m all in favor of the readily accessible, environmentally friendly alternative to plastic sacks.

But I have to wonder: Is the plethora of reusable bags for sale in response to a genuine concern for the environment, or is it an easy way to put on a green front and get free advertising as shoppers tote logo-bearing bags all over town?

Every grocery store I walk into seems to offer a range of reusable bags to fit shoppers’ needs, whether it be a normal shopping bag, one meant to handle cold items or one with special compartments for wine bottles.

In that sense, then, maybe the bags are in response to consumer demand. It’s hip to be green, so shoppers want a collection of bags to suit every shopping occasion.

But it isn’t all that often I see my fellow shoppers actually using the bags. (Although it’s happening more and more, at Fred Meyer and elsewhere.)

So are they actually making a difference, or are they just the cool trend of the moment?

On a personal level, I’m happy to report that the space under my sink is no longer overflowing with plastic bags.

For the greater Tri-Cities area, families could save almost 50,000 plastic bags per DAY by choosing the reusable alternative, according to information from the Mid-Columbia Earth Month’s Bring Your Own Bag project.

That’s based on 57,500 familes using six bags per week for grocery store runs.

So even if the racks of reusable bags near every check stand are an easy way for stores to feed into consumerism and look “green,” and for consumers to feel part of the hipster movement, the more mainstream the bags become, the fewer flapping bags we will have mucking up our landfills and neighborhoods.

-- Ingrid Stegemoeller is a business reporter for the Herald and appreciates the economic and environmental efficiency of living green.