The Shopping Times Are Changing

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - February 28, 2007
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Times customer service rep. Kauionalani Sato and general clerk Debra Shimabuku display a Times reusable shopping bag
Times customer service rep. Kauionalani Sato and
general clerk Debra Shimabuku display a Times
reusable shopping bag

I was rushing through Times the other day for a bit of blitzkrieg shopping. After grabbing a couple of lemons and a package of frozen turkey wings, I was making my way to checkout when it struck me - I looked like the ultimate geek.

Tucked under my arm was a bright red tote with the store name emblazoned on the front. Times sells these totes to encourage customers to reuse them in order to reduce the need for plastic bags. Great idea, I thought when I saw them, and immediately bought a couple. Been using them ever since.

But I’m virtually alone. I see no one else with the red bags in their shopping carts. I’m also the only person I know who brings in used plastic bags to carry groceries. I know there are others doing it; I received e-mails from quite a number of you who believe in the gospel of reusing and recycling. But there still are so few of us out there that we’re an oddity. I’ve had checkout guys not know what to do with the used bags, one even tried to throw them in the trash when I handed them over.

We’re way behind the curve in Hawaii when it comes to recycling, but at least we’re playing catch up. This matter of the plastic bags has been a growing source of global concern, discussion and action for years. In Ireland, for instance, use of plastic bags dropped more than 90 percent after the government levied a 20-cent-abag tax, called a “Plas Tax.”

In Australia retailers have signed on to a voluntary program restricting the use of plastic. Instead, people carry around bright green reusable totes. In 2005 there were 10 to 15 million, probably more, of the green totes in use in the land down under. It’s carried around like a fashion accessory.

The EPA says, “A sturdy, reusable bag needs only be used 11 times to have a lower environmental impact than using 11 disposal bags. When one ton of plastic bags is reused or recycled, the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil are saved.”

Of course, even the little green bags in Australia - and the bright red ones sold by Times- have their critics. Some point out that they are made of polypropylene, a fossil fuel-based plastic. But at least they get reused many times. It’s a step in the right direction. Ideally we’d all be using sturdy fabric bags instead, and I hope our local stores will eventually jump on that bandwagon.

Times appears to be the only Hawaii supermarket right now selling reusable totes, and I have to say that does influence my decision on where to shop. I like a business that goes a step beyond. But all the major markets have some sort of recycling program. Times and Star Markets credit you 3 cents for every plastic bag you bring in. Foodland’s credit is a whopping 5 cents per bag. Safeway gives you back a penny for each plastic bag, and pays 3 cents per bag if you bring your own from home.

These are all good, but not quite good enough. The problem is most customers don’t know about these incentives, or they aren’t paying attention. The biggest step we have to take is to break the habit of convenience, and it has to come from the top. Government needs to provide incentives for change and strongly encourage a shift in attitudes. People, I believe, would cooperate willingly once they understand how important it is, and how easy. It’s already being done in other countries and I know we can do it here, because deep down people understand that it’s the right thing to do.

And if more people are doing it, I won’t look so geeky.

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