Reusable Bags: News & Views
Thousands of shoppers in California, Nevada and Arizona have one less of an excuse than they did a month ago not to bring their own bag to the grocery store, which Tesco hopes is one of its 168 Fresh & Easy markets.
Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's neighborhood affairs director Roberto Munoz said today the fresh food and grocery chain handed out over 200,000 free reusable canvas carrier bags to customers last month, between September 15th and September 30th.
The reusable bag Fresh & Easy gave away to shoppers in September is its 99-cent reusable canvas bag (pictured top, left), which as we reported in this piece - December 7, 2008: Fresh & Easy Offers New Definition of 'Double Bagging;' Says Sales of Reusable Bags Has Doubled Since Introducing its 99-Cent Bag in October - the grocery chain introduced in October 2008.
Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market distributed coupons for the September 2010 free canvas bag promotion, which required a minimum purchase of $10 to get a free bag, via its direct mail advertising flyers, as well as on its website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and through its 'Friends of Fresh & Easy' e-mail promotional mailer. The reusable bags were also handed out to customers at the fresh food and grocery chain's September 2010 new store grand opening celebrations in California.
800,000 free reusable bags so far
September's wasn't the first reusable bag giveaway Tesco's Fresh & Easy has held. It's offered free bag promotions, usually giving the bag away with a minimum $10 purchase, fairly regularly since introducing its 99-cent canvas bag in October 2008.
And, according to Munoz, the grocery chain has given away about 800,000 reusable shopping bags to shoppers since opening its first stores in November 2007.
Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market offers a variety of reusable bags in its 168 stores in Southern California and the Central Valley; metro Las Vegas, Nevada; and metro Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to the 99-cent canvas bag, there's also a reusable bag made out of organic canvas, which sells for $2.99, and a reusable canvas bottle bag, which retails for $1.99.
The grocer also offers an inexpensive reusable bag which it calls "bags for life." The bags are made out of a synthetic plastic-type material and sell for 20-cents each. Fresh & Easy offers to replace the bags free of charge when they wear out, hence the name. The 'bags for life" are popular in the United Kingdom, where Fresh & Easy's parent company Tesco is based.
Tesco's Fresh & Easy offers free single-use plastic carrier bags in its stores but doesn't offer free paper grocery sacks as an option, unlike virtually all of its competitors in California, Nevada and Arizona do.
Incentives: Paper, plastic or reusable
Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is attempting to get as many customers as it can to BYOB - bring their own bags to the store - through offering a variety of reusable bag options at various price points, it's bag giveaways and promotions, and by other means.
For example, Munoz says Fresh & Easy is also encouraging the use of reusable bags in its stores by adding in-store reminder signage, merchandising reusable bags closer to the checkout stands and giving away magnets featuring messages that remind customers not to forget their reusable bags at home.
Reusable bag use remains low in the U.S.
Despite free bag giveaways like those conducted by Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market and numerous other U.S. grocers, which also offer reusable bags for 99-cents or a dollar, few consumers bring their own bags to the grocery store. Various studies estimate that a mere 5%-10% of Americans regularly bring their own bags with them when they go shopping.
In California, where Tesco has 107 of its 168 (soon to be 155. See:13 Closing Fresh & Easy Stores List) Fresh & Easy stores, promoters of legislation to ban single-use plastic carrier bags were dealt a blow this summer when a bill, AB 1998, designed to do just that, was defeated in the California State Senate. [See - August 31, 2010: Breaking Buzz: California's Single-Use Plastic Carrier Bag Ban Bill Fails.]
Since the defeat of the statewide bill, which was supported by the California Grocers Association, the trade group for grocers doing business in the state, numerous California cities has dusted off plastic bag ban bills which they're now considering proposing. Various sources say four -to- five dozen California municipalities are currently considering single-use plastic carrier bag bans or laws that would charge a fee for the bags. [See - September 3, 2010: How the California Grocers Association and its Members Can Snatch Victory From the Jaws of the Defeat of California's Plastic Bag Ban.]
A few California cities, including San Francisco and Malibu, have had single-use plastic carrier bag ban laws in place for some time. Others, such as Oakland and Manhattan Beach, passed such laws but had them struck down in the courts, in lawsuits filed by the plastic bag industry.
In 2009, the first federal bill that would have placed a fee on single-use plastic carrier bags was killed in committee in the U.S. House of representatives before being able to get a vote on the House floor. [See- April 23, 2009: Virginia Congressman Jim Moran Introduces First-Ever Federal Single-Use Bag Fee Legislation Into U.S. House of Representatives on Earth Day 2009.
Putting the 'PR' in reusable bag use
Reusable bag promotional programs like Fresh & Easy's and those regularly conducted by other food and grocery retailers, along with public relations programs by non-profit groups and others to encourage greater use of reusable bags, are a good and positive thing - the more incentives the better - but until shoppers decide to take personal responsibility (PR) and bring their own bags to the store in greater numbers, not only will we not see much of a trend towards increased reusable bag use, we'll also continue to see state and local governments attempt to influence retailer and consumer behavior by proposing and passing various laws designed to eliminate single-use plastic bags, and in some cases paper bags, and to promote the use of reusable bags via legislation.
Reasonable people can differ on whether or not it's the place of government to tell consumers what kind of carrier bag they can get at the grocery store and to restrict the types of bags retailers can offer to shoppers.
But in the final analysis one thing is clear, as is the case with most forms of behavior change, increasing the use of reusable bags at the grocery store is in the hands of consumers. For example, you can be given a dozen free reusable carrier bags from our favorite grocer but you we don't bring them to the grocery store and use them, which is the case with many consumers, then the incentive is a moot point.
Regular incentives, which we encourage and congratulate grocers and others for promoting, will no doubt increase the use of reusable bags by shoppers, at least incrementally. But until consumers decide to change their collective behavior and BYOB, the percentage will remain low.
[Fresh & Easy Buzz has written extensively about reusable grocery bags and the single-use bag topic and issue. For a selection of those stories click here, here and here. Use the "Older Posts, "Newer Posts" links at the bottom of the linked pages for additional pages and stories.]