The plastic bag ban in Brattleboro banned plastic shopping bags. Grocery stores immediately complied, removing them from the available options to shoppers. Reusable bags were offered for sale.
Paper bags, always a free convenience for shoppers, suddenly had a price tag. Depending on the store, paper bags to carry purchases from a store now cost 5 or 10 cents. I’m speaking primarily of grocery stores and supermarkets.
Ask cashiers why a previously-free store amenity suddenly costs money, the answer is often “You have to blame to Town of Brattleboro.” But this isn’t true. Brattleboro did not mandate charging for paper bags.
Push them a little and they’ll say “Paper bags cost more.” But this doesn’t really make sense. Up until the ban, they ordered bags and handed them out. Free. Now they may order a few more paper bags, but they also order zero plastic bags. And the number of paper bags being used must be very low compared to say, 10 or 20 years ago, given the predominance of re-usable bags these days.
We should note here that the quality of the free bags was significantly higher than the current crop. Pay for a bag today and you’ll be lucky to make it home without it tearing or ripping.
It would seem that stores are simply using the plastic bag ban as an excuse for cost shifting to the consumer.
“But Chris,” you say. “The cost provides an incentive to bring your own re-usable bag. The stores want us to stop using plastic.” No they don’t. Grocery stores are filled with plastic packaging. They offer up plastic-wrapped meats and vegetables, plastic bottles and bags of snacks. They sell plastic wrap and plastic bags. They are making no other changes to eliminate plastic.
The low cost, too, is not much of an incentive for behavior change. To get people to use reusable bags, raise the cost of paper bags to MORE than the cost of the reusable option. Make paper bags cost $2 if the goal is to be an incentive, and sell the reusable bag for $1. Of course, at $2, that paper bags should be a sturdy enough to get you home and be reused.
Another note: The Co-op has charged for bags for a long time, but they are a cooperative. We members “own” the place and have control over that policy. Free boxes are available, too.
Again, it seems as if the stores are simply cost shifting and using the bag ban as an excuse. It is in line with the “self-checkout” lanes that pass the cost and labor of a cashier and bagger on to the shopper. (Self-checkout lanes also mean stores can lower their tax bills. They pay no tax if the shopper does the labor for them.)
This all begs the question – what’s next? What will we see going forward?
Will we be charged for a bag to hold green beans? How about an egg carton? Would the store like us to pitch in and pay a fee for refrigeration? Should there be a fee for helping to keep the store clean? If something falls and breaks, should that cost extra? Shopping cart wear and tear? A small parking fee for using the parking lot? How about snow removal costs?
Perhaps supermarkets should just be parking lots, where semi-trucks arrive and shoppers go in and unload items as they arrive. Perhaps they should become a true Co-op?
Maybe it would be easiest and most cost-effective for the stores if we stop shopping altogether. We certainly seem like a burden to them. We could save them a tremendous amount by growing and producing our own food. That way, stores would no longer have to buy expensive paper bags or pay wages and taxes on employees.
I bring my reusable bags almost all the time. On the rare occasion I don’t have one with me, I would like a strong paper bag. Raise the price to $2 if the goal is to be an incentive. And show me you are taking steps to really eliminate plastic altogether. Otherwise, stop nickel and dime-ing us for normal costs of doing business, and provide free paper bags as a convenience.