Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Shopping Bag Chic

The New York Times has an article about how Whole Foods is trying to make re-usable grocery bags chic by employing a famous bag designer and announcing limited runs of the bags. Several cities in Northeastern states served by this blog (including Boston, New York, Baltimore and Annapolis) are considering banning plastic grocery bags. Read an excerpt of the story below:

At 8 this morning, 15 Whole Foods stores in the New York area were to start selling $15 cotton bags by Anya Hindmarch, a London designer better known for bags that range to $1,500 and beyond. The bags, which read “I’m not a plastic bag,” are intended to be used and reused for groceries, in place of plastic. Whole Foods is selling 20,000, first come first served, limit three to a customer while supplies last. If offerings of the bag in other cities are any guide, the lines will be long.
A stampede of would-be purchasers in Taiwan in June sent 30 people to the hospital and required the riot police. A similar outpouring in Hong Kong caused no injuries, but the police closed down the shopping mall. “Apparently they are not used to queuing,” Ms. Hindmarch said last week from a hotel in Tokyo, where she had just finished the latest offering of her bag. To avoid more riots, future events in Southeast Asia will take place on the Internet.
What started out as a small effort in London to reduce the number of biodegradable-resistant plastic bags that litter the landscape has become a wildly successful worldwide campaign. With 34 stores around the world and 20 more opening this year, Ms. Hindmarch knows that even if you can’t interest people in a cause on moral or ethical grounds you can reach them by making the cause fashionable.
“To create awareness you have to create scarcity by producing a limited edition,” she said. “I hate the idea of making the environment trendy, but you need to make it cool and then it becomes a habit.”
Even before Ms. Hindmarch’s canvas tote became the talk of London, enough people were talking about plastic shopping bags that they qualified as a cause célèbre. In recent years, governments around the world have considered bans on them, and stores have found new tactics for weaning customers from them.
Made from polyethylene, a petroleum product, the bags may take as long as 500 years to degrade. Meantime they hang from trees, catch on power lines, float on oceans and lakes and clog storm drains, killing birds, fish, turtles and sea mammals unfortunate enough to ingest them or become entangled in them.
Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags a year, recycling less than 1 percent of them, according to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research and advocacy group in Washington.
San Francisco is the first American city to ban the nonbiodegradable bags. Later this year, first supermarkets and then large chain pharmacies there will have to offer biodegradable and compostable bags. The drawback is that they are much more expensive than the nonrecyclables.
Antibag bills are being considered in Boston; Baltimore; Annapolis, Md.; Portland, Ore.; and Santa Monica and Oakland, Calif.
New York City is in the early stages. As part of Mayor
Michael R. Bloomberg’s “green” campaign, the city sponsors public service announcements telling people to use cloth bags for grocery shopping and to reuse plastic bags.
City Councilman Michael E. McMahon, the chairman of the council’s sanitation and solid waste management committee, is from Staten Island, where he remembers the bags blowing all over from the Fresh Kills landfill, now closed. His committee is drafting a bill to require stores to take back plastic bags from customers. He hopes that in four or five years, people will be able to recycle them with their glass and paper.

Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 22 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Scroll down for links to the national organization and your local chapter.

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