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October 15, 2008

Wal-Mart and Ikea aim to curb plastic bag use

Reuters UK 09.26.08Walmart_plastic_bags_4

Wal-Mart Stores Inc will give out fewer plastic shopping bags, and encourage shoppers to reuse and recycle them, as the retailer aims to slash its plastic bag waste by a third worldwide by 2013.

Environmental Leader 10.06.08

IKEA announced that starting this month, the company will no longer be offering plastic or paper bags at any of its U.S. stores. They will only offer reusable bags.

Our Take: Ikea’s plastic bag ban has great sound bite appeal and while we applaud Wal-Mart for doing some of the harder work to reduce consumption, cheap reusable bags aren’t going to solve the problem either. Let’s not forget, part of Wal-Mart’s strategy is to have millions of people carrying around reusable shopping bags with their logo. It’s a crafty form of free advertising for the company that shouts “Wal-Mart’s green!”

We’d love to see both retailers adopt some of the progressive tactics of other retailers – charge for plastic bags and offer a credit for any reusable shopping bag customers bring with them.

See our take on plastic bag bans and the problem with cheap reusable shopping bags. (10/20/08: Thanks for all of your comments - read our response in the continued reading link below.)

Link: Ikea Drops Plastic and Paper Bags in U.S. Stores

Link: Wal-Mart aims to curb plastic bag use

Follow-up:  We understand that it seems confusing we’d be bashing retailers for offering cheap reusable bags. As some of you have commented, isn’t any reusable shopping bag a step in the right direction? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding “no.”

First and foremost, are most of us using the reusable bags offered by retailers at low or no cost? Or are the vast majority accumulating in our closets as more unwanted freebies? When Australia made the transition to reusable bags a few years ahead of us, data indicated that few of the cheap bags from retailers were being used in the spirit of reducing consumption. Rather, they were sitting at home or going straight into the trash, like their disposable cousins.

Then there’s the impact of the bags to consider. Reusable shopping bags that are irresponsibly made are no better than disposable plastic or paper bags and—in some cases—they’re worse. The branded reusable shopping bags you see at most retailers these days are made of poor-quality materials, which means they won’t last, doing little to reduce wasteful consumption of bags since you’ll need a replacement. And yet, these same reusable bags require more energy to produce and are slower to break down in landfills than the disposable bags they’re replacing. Sounds pretty inefficient.

This issue goes beyond green-washing, in which retailers attempt to pose as environmentally concerned (we get that we live in an image-driven, capitalist society). The real problem is that a lack of critical-thinking about these ubiquitous reusable bags puts us at risk of replacing one harmful habit with another, and getting nowhere. Here's a link to our article with more on the issue. Thanks for listening.


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I didn't like this comment from your summary: "Let’s not forget, part of Wal-Mart’s strategy is to have millions of people carrying around reusable shopping bags with their logo. It’s a crafty form of free advertising for the company that shouts “Wal-Mart’s green!”" Of course they're going to want to promote their store -- they're a business. But to nitpick on this detail seems baseless, when the bigger picture here is that Ikea/Wal-Mart are actually doing something hugely significant. If they squeeze in a little capitalism at the same time, fine. It's the big picture here that's important.

Why aren't "cheap, reusable bags going to solve the problem?" I thought that was the goal, reusable bags, any reusable bags. Or is it just that they need to buy "Your" reusable bags? Your tone seems like "damning with faint praise." I'm excited that retailers, however self serving, are taking actual steps to reduce plastic-lution!

I agree with ZH. How petty is that? All stores that sell reuseable bags put their name on it as advertising. Because they do that they offer the bags cheaper than some designer bag. Im sure Ikea does, I know my local grocery does. Oh and I use my local grocery bags at Wal-Mart. Their better bags than what Wal-Mart is offering locally.

As much as I hate it I shop at Wal-mart. For the last six months I have been religiously using my reuseable shopping bags. In six months of shopping at Walmart I have had one positive response to my reuseable shopping bags. I am disgusted with Wal-marts attempts and claims to being "green". Most of the time they won't even bag my groceries when I have my own bags. One of the girls told me she was allergic to reusable bags and then watched me struggle with two small children while I bagged my own groceries. In my opinion Wal-mart will have to do something major to prove themselves as enviromentally savy.

I had wondered the same thing about those inexpensive reusable bags. Some of them give off toxic smells and none of them are made well. And really, how can we blame the corporate pandering when it's exactly what so many people have been asking for? The real responsibility lies with the consumer; we need to make our own bags if possible out of recycled materials, and if not then buying bags that are organic/fair trade whatever seems the next best option. We do not need to buy those bags just because they're there. We need to be more mindful as consumers and set out to do our shopping purposefully, especially in the current economic climate.

I am not really ready to give Wal-Mart kduos for this one. They have done some solar stuff which I commend much more. The bag thing, well, they have a lot to make up for. The Wal-mart where I live DOES NOT recycle their bags. As far as offering reusable bags, they just want you to buy from them instead of getting the plastic ones "free". I have had canvas bags for years. I just wash them occasionally. As far as the grocery people who look at you cross-eyed when you bring you own bags- screw them! I do a better job bagging anyway and DON'T put canned items on top of the BREAD! At the grocery store I shop at, they give you "bonus points" for using your own bags. Plus, the grocery store is not as loud and crowded as Wal-Mart.

I purchased canvas bags from my local grocery store when they 1st offered them about 4 years ago. they do have the Shop Rite logo on them. Shop Rite only sold these canvas bags for a short stint and then discontinued them. They were replaced with the cheap .99. reusable ones now seen everywhere. I now am the envy of all reusable bag owners. I can WASH my canvas bags. I agree, once your reusable bag gets gross...and you cannot wash it...It sits 3 times as long in the land fill. It is interesting to think about the fact that Shop Rite grocery store took a huge step forward... and then three steps backward in the journey toward encouraging responsible consuming. We need to make responsibe consuming easier!

I worked at a Wal-mart for many years, and each size plastic bag and how much it cost were posted for us to see in the back, along with a sign telling you to not use bags inappropriately because they cost the company money. They also showed us videos on how to fill a bag so you use every inch of it, and can use less bags. If Wal-mart would give a bag credit for using reusable bags, I would feel they were thinking about the environment. Right now, I just think they are looking at their bottom line.

Thank you for this great blog information!I'm finding this whole blogging world a great resource for any topic, and really inspirational.

I'd be interested in hearing. The TOS seems rather clear that it is not unless expressly approved by Amazon. I guess if the library got it in writing then they would be ok.

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