The Wall Street Journal recently did a great article on recycling called, An Inconvenient Bag They were talking about the third alternative to paper or plastic—bring your own. It is estimated that when used properly, BYO bags can replace 520 plastic bags a year. That’s a good thing!
Everybody is making recycle bags of course. I got the blue ones pictured in an earlier post on from CostCo for 50 cents apiece. Every grocery store on the planet is making them, and they’ve become a status symbol from all of the name designers and fancy department stores as well.
But to me, this debate is more interesting as a sign of the times.
A case in point: nobody ever thought we’d cut down cigarette smoking. It was an individual freedom of choice until we came up with the idea of second-hand smoke. Then all of those long suffering non-smokers jumped on the band wagon. It was OK to say No! Science said so. And as Malcolm would say, the Tipping Point had been reached.
I think we’ve reached the tipping point on grocery bags, too. How to get everybody on board? We’ve tried the stick (making people feel guilty). And it is not half as effective as the carrot (making people feel good about what they are doing.) Theodore Roszak says that’s the only way we will get folks to change long standing habits.
When I went to the grocery store yesterday, the management there had done four simple things that built on this basic tenet of group behavior
1. There was a sign in the window: “Remember your shopping bags”. A positive gentle reminder that they were indeed there, in the trunk. Did I retrieve mine from my car? You betcha!
2. Money back. I was pleasantly surprised when I got 30 cents off my bill at the register for bringing reusable bags into the store.
3. Clerk approval. They not only said ‘way to go!’ when I retrieved them from the bottom of the cart, they compounded it by saying, ‘I really like these. They are so nice and big.’ Did I beam like a proud parent? Of course!
4. A chance to win. I also was handed a lottery-type slip to fill out to enter a drawing for a free, recyclable bag full of groceries.
Getting people to change is not a simple thing. But using the right reinforcements makes it easier.
Hats off to Grocers who take that first small step to make a difference.
PS–As an update, I note a recent article on Treehugger.com that WalMart is pledging to eliminate one-third of their plastic bag consumption over the next five years. Way to do!