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No more free bags at some Wal-Marts

The retailer charges for reusable shopping bags as part of its effort to help the environment.

By Teresa Mears Jan 15, 2010 4:36PM

In another effort to go green, Wal-Mart has quit providing free bags to customers at three of its stores in Northern California.

 

According to The Sacramento Bee, the move is part of an experiment to see whether customers are willing to bring their own bags to help the environment. If they forget bags, they can buy reusable bags from Wal-Mart in two sizes, for 15 cents and 50 cents. The company is also training checkers to put more in each bag.

 

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amelia Neufeld said the 15-cent bag should provide enough use to save 75 plastic bags. The effort is part of the company’s Plastic Bag Initiative, which aims to reduce plastic bag waste at its stores worldwide 33% by 2013. The company says the effort would help it avoid producing 290,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases and prevent the consumption of 678,000 barrels of oil every year.

Commenters at the Sacramento Bee Web site were split.

 

A reader named marine4ever wrote:

This country is so far behind others on recycling that this whole article is moronic. Other countries have charged people to get plastic bags and reduced their landfill and oil consumption to make the bags. But maybe all these people who think its a dumb idea like giving money to countries in the form of oil purchases. Those same countries are trying to harm us so who is the patriot someone who recycles or someone who helps prop up enemy countries economies?

But a reader named Porkster believes that providing bags to carry home purchases is part of basic customer services. He wrote:

I will not, repeat...will not, pay a fee to carry my purchases home. It is the principal of the thing. In my opinion, it is the store's responsibility to provide means to carry your purchases home. It is also the store's responsibility to make sure the means is an acceptable one. We didn't ask Wal-Mart to use plastic bags, so how about they find out what is acceptable and change to that? But, if nothing else, quit looking for ways to get more money out of the consumer !!! The line has to stop somewhere.

Others are skeptical that the change will make any significant environmental difference. A reader named John262 wrote:

 I am ambivalent about this. In most cases, the money you will save by shopping at Walmart will be more than enough to compensate for the 15 cents per bag. But on the other hand, I wish that all of these do gooders would get out of my face. The world has gotten by just fine giving out free bags for all these years. Why not let good enough alone? Yes, protecting the environment is important, but there are a lot of other things we could do that would help the environment more than charging for those lousy bags.

Wal-Mart is not the first store to require customers to provide their own bags or boxes to take purchases home. Costco lets you use discarded boxes to load up your purchases but doesn’t provide bags. Aldi’s doesn’t provide free bags, either. Some stores give you a few cents’ credit for bringing your own bags.

Some cities, such as San Francisco, have banned plastic bags entirely. Nashville hasn’t banned them but encourages citizens to provide their own bags instead.

 

Nadine Weil at Heart of Green did some investigating to see how the San Francisco ban on plastic bags was working. She isn’t sure that using paper bags is an improvement. “The cities are celebrating, but are the forests in mourning?” she wrote. “It takes 4 times as much energy to make a paper bag than a plastic bag. As the paper bags degrade in landfills, they release carbon dioxide into the air. Some studies report that making paper bags generates 70% more air pollutants and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.”

 

Her conclusion? Bring your own.

 

We must confess we have not been as environmentally correct in this situation as we would like. We are forced to bring our own bags to Aldi’s (so we keep some plastic bags in the car), but we do reuse our plastic grocery bags to discard used cat litter and other garbage.

 

What about you? Are you vigilant about bringing your own reusbable bags when you go shopping? Do you think Wal-Mart is right to give people a nudge and quit providing free bags?

 

Related reading:

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