B.Y.O.B. Bags, that is.

Your essential guide to reusable bags and everything you need to know about them. All the bases are covered.

Bags

by Jenna Valdespino

May 16, 2011

The grocery store check-out line.

It’s a standard, familiar place, where you exchange your hard-earned money for groceries. The bored teenage checker, the rolling belt and the sound of products being scanned are all too familiar.

What is becoming less standard is what you carry those goods home in.

Sure, there’s paper and there’s plastic, but you’ve noticed some people declining those offers and bringing in their own various bags. But why? Why is that woman giving you dirty looks for using all those plastic bags?

Reusable bags. You know they’re good for the environment and you know they come in different prints, materials and sizes. You also know they generally cost more than those free plastic bags Safeway gives you. So why use them? Are they just a passing fad? This is your essential guide to reusable bags.

What are they?

People are becoming increasingly aware of the impact disposable items are having on dear, old Mother Nature. The truth of the matter is that there is somewhat of a revolution occurring in regard to reusable bags. They correspond directly to the eco-friendly motto, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”

Many different kinds of reusable bags are popping up all over Chico and all over the world. Different brands, materials and sizes are out there and it’s good to know the facts about each.

Made in Chico, a gift shop specializing in products created in Chico, maintains a local community atmosphere. They sell various bags made by locals, as well as ChicoBags, a brand that originated in town before branching off.

Aimee Anderson, an employee at Made in Chico, works to promote and support local brands and products.

“We’ve carried ChicoBags for almost two years now,” she said. “We can’t keep them in stock – they sell really well.”

ChicoBags are generally made of polyester and that makes up most of their products. There is a line of bags marked with rePETe™, meaning that these bags are manufactured using recyclable materials. These bags are mainly made with something called polyethylene terephthalate, used in plastic water bottles.

Although ChicoBags are no longer produced in Chico, they employ many people in town, Anderson said.

While the company does receive some negativity being that their products are manufactured in China instead of Chico, they address the issue on their website.

ChicoBag is a member of the Fair Labor Association, according to their website, and works to become involved with working conditions in China. By being a member, they commit to having their entire company involved with the FLA program. This means that they ensure the rights of workers overseas.

Various local businesses in Chico also promote reusable bags. S & S Organic Produce and Natural Foods sells a variety of reusable bags, with their standard bag selling for $5.99.

Chico Natural Foods primarily uses paper bags and sells their own reusables for $10. They, like many large chain grocery stores, have adopted the use of a discount program in which customers receive a 5 cent credit for each reusable bag they bring in to use. This store also gives customers the opportunity to have this credit donated to a charity.

Brian Fredson, a manager at the Chico Trader Joe’s, notes upon the store’s eco-friendly practices.

“Trader Joe’s as a company doesn’t claim to promote a green lifestyle but we here, personally in Chico, we really try,” Fredson said. “We do the contests over here so if people are using any reusable bags, even old paper bags, we put their name in a drawing to get a new reusable bag.”

The Trader Joe’s in Chico also uses paper bags by default and only provides plastic bags when a customer specifically asks, Fredson said.

“We use them for things like wrapping chicken so it doesn’t touch the rest of the food, if it might be wet, that kind of thing,” he said. “But otherwise they just sit down there until somebody asks for them.”

Trader Joe’s sells many different reusable bags. Some are made from recycled plastic bottles, with tags that say things like, “Made of 100% Post-Consumer Waste” and “Helps Eliminate Waste From Our Landfills.” These bags are made in Vietnam. There are other unique bags as well, such as the large, rolling, insulated bag that sells for $6.99. Their materials range from cloth to polypropylene.

Why are they better than paper or plastic?

Disposable bags are very well-known as the convenient way to go, but there must be some reason stores are turning to reusable products, right?

Using multiple plastic bags for every grocery store trip certainly adds up. The reusable bag brand Reuseit mentions some startling facts about plastic bags on their website.

It takes a total of 1,000 years for one plastic bag to degrade. This leftover mess negatively affects the earth’s landfills and oceans, not only because of the space taken up but because these bags are toxic for an incredibly long time after they are broken down, according to Reuseit.

Jeanne BenVau, the resource manager at Chico State’s Environmental Action and Resource Center, spends her time surrounded by the program’s environmental library of information.

“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is like an enormous conglomeration of plastics in the ocean that is basically wrecking havoc on the whole ecosystem over there,” BenVau said. “The plastics break down and it’s really hard to see but it’s basically a sea of little, tiny bits of plastic that birds can ingest, that turtles eat because they think they’re jellyfish.”

The United States’ consumption of paper grocery bags requires 14 million trees, according to the National Cooperative Grocers Association. Simply because paper bags are seen as less hurtful than plastic does not mean that they are not also taking advantage of the environment.

“You can’t really justify saying like, ‘Oh, well, paper is a lot better than plastic.’ No. It’s not a lot better,” BenVau said.

BenVau uses both Trader Joe’s canvas bags and ChicoBags when grocery shopping.

What’s the deal with the lead?

These eco-friendly bags have had their share of controversy. There is an ongoing scare in regard to the amount of lead in these bags, stemming from reports done by The Tampa Tribune in 2010. Most states have a lead content limit on products that caps at 100 parts per million. Bags made of polypropylene from stores such as Safeway, CVS and Walgreens all tested much higher than this limit, according to the Center for Consumer Freedom.

These tests and recalls have caused consumer suspicion, as well as guarantees from companies like ChicoBag and Reuseit stating that their products are safe.

The best way to avoid bags with high levels of lead is to read the labels. Be cautious with those made of non-woven polypropylene materials because these are the ones that tested abnormally high. It is helpful to know the facts and history involved with this issue. Quality is extremely important in these bags because they are meant to last and to be reused.

Reusable bags are working towards a healthier environment, as opposed to plastic bags that make an unwelcome lasting impression on landfills.

Despite the dirty looks that you will avoid by bringing in a reusable bag next time you’re in a grocery store, you’ll also be making a difference for the environment.

© Spring 2011 Chico State Journalism

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