Sunday, February 17, 2008

Green shopping bags

The supermarket where I drop giant chunks of my paycheck, Whole Foods (in both my old and my new offices, there's one right next to the subway I take home), announced last month that it will stop releasing plastic bags. Starting in April, shoppers can bring their own bags, buy a 99c reusable one, or opt for paper.

Cynically, I wonder if the move is also going save Whole Foods money on buying bags. I just searched their SEC filings, and nothing is disclosed there -- so if the switch to "paper or pay" is going to be cheaper for them, they're not saying.

Being your standard-issue urban-liberal lazy-green mild-environmentally-guilt-stricken type, I'd long tried to switch to reusable bags. However, I fast hit a snag: I am incredibly forgetful. I could be walking out the door with the express purpose of going to the store to buy groceries and still manage to forget to take along one of the half-dozen reusable bags I'd bought over the years. And for impulse buys, forget it. I was managing to bring a reusable bag on about one shopping trip every eight weeks.

Until I came across the perfect thing for me, at the Union Square holiday craft market in December: Envirosax. These bags roll up and close with a snap, so you can stuff them in a backpack or purse, and they unfold to impressively large size -- I've stuffed gigantic grocery loads into mine. I've been road-testing my Envirosack for two months now, and so far, all good. It's rugged, hasn't torn, washes easily when I spill stuff on it, and fits easily into my purse, so I actually have it with me most of the time. About the trickiest thing I've encountered was mastering the fold-and-reroll trick to packing the bag back up, but I got the hang of it after a few tries.

Envirosax are $8.50 each on their website; I got mine for $13 or so, which means if you find it at a retailer near you, expect markup. (On the other hand, no shipping charges for buying locally.)

I'm not sure if BYO Bags really count as a frugality tip; most of the markets I shop at give you a 5c discount for bringing a reusable bag, but at that rate it'll take about 260 shopping tricks before I can claim my bag paid for itself. I suspect this is like buying a hybrid car: you can tell yourself the lower gas costs are worth the higher upfront expense, but really, it's a wash. Except that it'll help appease your nagging inner Al Gore voice, which is all good.

Envirosax is, of course, not the only company touting easily transportable reusable bags. Baggu Bags is also making inroads. Their bags fold up into a pouch. (I would lose the pouch. And probably fight with the bag trying to get it folded correctly and stuffed back in. The best part of the Envirosack, for me, is that it's one piece; the snap-rollup tie is built in.) Know of others? Tout 'em here.

(As a reminder, Birds & Bills doesn't take advertising; any products mentioned are things I legitimately bought. No ethics were harmed in the making of this blogpost.)