The Future of Grocery Totes
In 2007, San Francisco instituted a single-use plastic-bag ban, the first in the country, which soon spread to 81 other Californian cities and counties, as well as municipalities in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.
San Francisco's ban added retailers last year and restaurants Oct. 1. Upon switching to paper bags, the respective store is able to keep the minimum-10-cent charge on each bag, which is to be waived for those using federal or state food assistance programs. As in San Francisco, there are typically exceptions, such as meat, produce, pharmacy, newspaper and doggy bags.
Portland, Ore. followed suit, passing similar legislation, but without the mandatory fee in July 2011. The first phase only targeted grocery stores and large retailers with pharmacies, but in November 2012, its City Council voted to expand the ban to all retailers and food vendors. Phase two went into effect March 1 for larger stores with smaller locations joining in Oct. 1.
Redwood City, Calif. adopted San Mateo County's ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags in March 2013. The city's minimum 10-cent paper bag charge went into effect Oct. 1, and will rise to 25 cents in 2015. Fines for non-compliance in all three cities are $100 to $500.
Some municipalities have started to charge for plastic bags instead of banning them entirely, but all of this aims toward one goal: reducing the usage of plastic bags that litter the streets and shores. While some consumers may switch to paper bags, for which many lawmakers are forcing retailers to charge a nominal fee, others will opt for reusable bags-a trend that has resulted in a boost for the industry.
"There's a short-term spike. Some distributors are pretty good at getting ahead of the curve," Christopher Duffy, senior vice president of marketing for Bag Makers Inc., said of bans, like in Seattle where they worked with retailers prior to the July 2012 ban's effective date to prepare them for the law change.
Meanwhile, plastic bag advocates are fighting cutbacks and bans, citing job loss, paper bags' increased costs and greenhouse-gas emissions, and reusable bags' unsanitary conditions, but the latter is not necessarily an issue.
"That is true with any bag," Duffy said of potential contamination. "If you put chicken in a bag and it's not wrapped and protected and it leaks, it's going to affect any bag, right?"
"There's no health risk [with a plastic bag] because people throw it away," he added.
Therefore, grocery totes should be cleaned-either by hand or in the washing machine, Duffy said.
While sanitation may be a concern, consumers look for one main thing in a grocery tote: durability. It must be able to hold heavy groceries. Duffy advised checking its grams-per-square-meter (GSM) density.
"The higher the number, the denser the bag. The denser the bag, the more durable and more lasting it is." Duffy said.
Many bags are 80 GSM, but when made to carry weight, they should be at least 100, Duffy said. Other bag-strengthening features include a thick, black plastic polyethylene board that serves as the base and handles that are sewn down the sides of the bag.
Regardless of whether these bans continue to go into effect, will not affect sales, he said. Bag Makers began selling the totes in 2007, a year before their estimated boom, and became the first in the industry to have them.
"They're very popular because they're reusable and they're really cost-effective," Duffy said.