Sunday, April 6, 2008

Neither is Cheaper

A recent article in The New York Times announced the city of Seattle's plan to charge a 20-cent "green fee" for the use of paper or plastic bags at the grocery store. Mayor Greg Nickels initiated the idea as a way to promote the use of reusable grocery bags. In addition to being a sustainable choice, selecting "neither" when asked for "paper or plastic" will soon become a cheaper choice for Seattle residents.

According to the article, a city in Ireland has already established a similar program to the one Nickels is proposing to launch this summer in Seattle. Supposedly, the Irish city uses 90% less disposable bags due to the program. Not only that, but the program raises money. Seattle expects the program to bring in about $10 million, with $1 million of that to be allocated toward buying reusable bags for the entire city.

Nickels has it right when he says the program is "all about changing habits." When reading this article, I immediately thought of Whole Foods trying to encourage its customers to use reusable bags. In the recent past, Whole Foods gave out 100% recycled bags to people filing through its checkout lines. I noticed a good number of customers using the bags during the first couple weeks after the giveaway, but that number has slowly dwindled. I found myself following this same trend; I used the recycled bag for a bit, but just today I went to Whole Foods and came back with a paper bag.

Even though people might have the intention of changing a habit, they usually don't act on that intention unless an incentive or punishment is involved. This tendency is why things like "green fees" come about. Personally, I would not mind Austin following in the footsteps of Seattle with a program to reduce the use of disposable grocery bags. Even though carrying around a canvas bag might be cumbersome in the beginning, a new and better habit would inevitably form.


Jrod said...

I saw something interesting this weekend at the grocery store myself. When I was at HEB saturday I noticed they had a plastic bag recycle bin outside their front door. Now, maybe it's been there awhile, but this is the first time I've noticed it. I was pleased to see this sort of thing, because it gives the general public a convenient way to do the right thing and recycle.

charlotte said...

I saw on the news a few days ago that 5 Austin businesses are going to completely end the use of plastic bags, the largest being HEB and Whole Foods. Earlier in that day, in his Design for Environment class, Dr. Allen performed a life cycle analysis of paper vs. plastic. There was no clear winner for bags that are not recycled, but plastic seems to be more reuseable. During that same class, Dr. Allen stated that Austin has voted to completely ban the use of plastic bags by all major retailers. It is unknown when this legislation will come into effect.

Chhavi said...

I asked my mom over spring break why she does not use a canvas bag. Her response like most people was, "It's just not convenient." If they stopped offering plastic bags all together, she would probably bring her own.

Then, she told me how in India when her mom used to go grocery shopping, she would bring her own cloth bag since the plastic bags were not strong enough, and before plastic bags came along they used cloth bags. It almost feels like we are moving backwards in terms of technology.

I agree with you in that most people are not going to change their habits unless forced to. At first, people may not like it, and someday people will forget that plastic bags even existed.