Reusable Bag Use on Rise as Three Local Towns Move Away from Plastic

Photo by Ryan Morrill

If you haven’t already done it, it might be time to start putting reusable bags in your vehicle for either planned shopping trips or the last-minute ones that can hang up even the most conscientious shopper. In just over a month, Long Beach Township businesses will no longer offer single-stream plastic bags to customers under an ordinance adopted by the Board of Commissioners last fall.

A similar ban was adopted in Harvey Cedars earlier this year and Stafford Township plans to ratify a measure later this spring. With the significant push to rid the area of single-stream plastics, the alternatives are nearly limitless. From reusable plastic bags, yes there is such a thing, to paper (it degrades but still leaves a large environmental footprint) to canvas and non-woven polypropylene, reusable bags have seen a renaissance of sorts.

“There has been a definite increase in the number of reusable bags, and that’s influenced governments/legislation,” Andrew Profenna, sales marketing manager for Bring Your Own Bag, an Ontario-based reusable bag company. “Our piece of this trend is small.”

The main reasons for the increase in reusable bags are part reducing the overall environmental footprint, part financial and part trendiness, Profenna said, noting in the past decade or so the materials used to make reusable bags have come down in price and expanded in scope.

“If it costs too much and the options are limited, less people are going to do it,” he said. “With more available materials, reusable bags have a bigger play.”

And for the better part of a decade, marketing-savvy businesses have used reusable bags for what he calls “omnipresence branding,” which tends to cover the expense of moving away from single-stream plastic bags. That’s contrary to opponents of banning T-shirt bags, a plastics industry term for the bags most retail businesses offer to in-store customers. Their concerns over banning single-stream plastic bags focus on the additional costs to the small business owner.

“The trend creates the demand and opens up availability,” Profenna said, adding it often has a significant impact on government and legislation. “If the trend is powerful enough, the government has to do something about it.”

He likened the recent movement toward reusable bags to that of the generational shift away from smoking indoors nearly two decades ago.

“No one thought cigarettes were going anywhere,” he said. “Then about 10 years ago, smoking indoors was banned and the cost of cigarettes went up. Now, there’s a younger generation not even thinking about cigarettes because of that trend. It (not smoking indoors) became the new norm.”

But Surf City resident and plastic bag industry executive William Heilferty isn’t as convinced.

“I am as concerned as anyone else about the environment,” he said. “We all know the solution – in a perfect world – is canvas bags.”

Still, he said moving away from single-stream plastic bags can be a deal breaker for many small businesses because upgrading to a better alternative can be costlier, making it less likely they will recoup the cost without passing on the upcharge to customers.

“Cost and convenience is what allowed plastic bags to become popular,” Heilferty said, noting leak-proof plastic bags were one of the reasons major supermarkets made the push to get rid of paper bags, which ripped more easily than plastics. “Carry-out bags become trash can liners. Without them, people are going to buy waste basket bags, which are heavier and take up more room in landfill.”

He said his company, Primepak, based in Teaneck, recycles about 50,000 pounds of plastic bags daily and uses about 90 percent of the recycled plastic to make heavy-duty plastic bags for construction sites, schools and hospitals. The company, he said, also offers a reusable plastic bag that contains a minimum 20 percent of consumer material, no lead or cadmium or any other heavy material. It’s easy to keep clean with a sanitary wipe and can carry up to 22 pounds, he said.

“Only about 8 percent of consumers are using canvas bags,” Heilferty said, adding he is concerned a move away from single-stream plastic bags in resort communities, like Long Beach Island, will be detrimental to businesses when unaware summer customers learn when they go to the deli there’s no way to bring sandwiches home or to the beach because carryout bags are outlawed. “Why criminalize (single-stream plastic bags) when there are worse things? Paper bags take up seven times the room in landfills than plastics. Nothing degrades in a landfill if the conditions aren’t right.”

— Gina Scala

Reposted from The Sandpaper