The Reusable Bag Movement

    With 2011 quickly approaching, I wanted to make sure you knew about the momentum that is building behind the reusable bag movement and the positive impact it will have on the retail shopping industry.

    As you may remember, a few years ago, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to ban plastic bags.  Instantly, the phones at City Hall in San Francisco started ringing. Community leaders from around the world were calling, asking how they could do the same. The reusable bag movement in the United States was born and starting to gain momentum. In California, so many cities were following suit, a state-wide ban on plastic bags was introduced in the California Assembly. With broad support from environmental groups, Governor Schwarzenegger,  businesses as well as the California Grocers Association, the bill passed the Assembly. However, the bill failed in the Senate due to unprecedented pressure from the plastic bag industry represented by the American Chemistry Council.

    The American Chemistry Councils attempts to squash the movement in California has only galvanized the movement.  In response, in late November on the steps of the California State Capital, city leaders, environmental groups and business leaders from across the state stood with Governor Schwarzenegger and pledged to reduce the unnecessary waste and pollution associated with the unnecessary use of single-use bags by implementing the state-wide ban at the local level, city by city, county by county until a state-wide ban is passed.  "Of course we fell short a few votes, but we said, ‘We’ll be back,’ and we are back again," Schwarzenegger said at a Capitol press conference. "And if we don’t get it done in December, we’ll get it done next year."  

    Like a row of dominos in quick succession, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to ban plastic bags and require a minimum 10 cent charge on paper bags in unincorporated parts of the County and set a framework for other cities within the county to follow.  Without delay, Long Beach followed suit.  Last week, the City of San Jose passed a similar ordinance and is now the largest city in the United States to take a stand against plastic pollution and single-use waste.  Marin County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote on January 4, 2011, with the ordinance expected to pass unanimously.
    Elsewhere, Washington, D.C. implemented a different model: a fee on paper and plastic bags and saw an immediate 80% reduction in single-use bag usage. China also imposed a fee on bags and saw a similar drop in consumption. The movement is worldwide with 25% of the world population living in communities that have taken a stand against the Plastic Bag Monster.    

    So, what does all this mean?  Across the board, consumers are becoming more intelligent shoppers. Whether they are motivated by a desire for a cleaner planet for themselves and their descendants, or a more basic desire to save money,  shoppers are becoming more aware of the topic of plastic pollution and its impact on the health of our oceans.  If you are a retailer or a shopper, let 2011 be the year you revamp your bagging practices. The question “Paper or plastic?” is so last year. Make reusable bags an integral part of your business or lifestyle. Shoppers can earn discounts, retailers can sell reusable bags and the ocean can let out a sigh of relief.

    Andy Keller, entrepreneur and activist has traveled the country as the dreaded Bag Monster to increase support for single-use plastic bag reduction efforts. Keller is the Founder and CEO of the ChicoBag Company and a Founding Member of the Reusable Bag Industry Coalition.

    Blog posted December 21, 2010