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Reusables catch on locally

February 15, 2008
By MIRIAM MOELLER, Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - Grace Andrews, 5, of Gwinn carefully lifted groceries from the Super One grocery belt and put them into reusable shopping bags. The rack of plastic and paper bags was untouched. Reusable shopping bags are flooding Marquette's grocery stores, as customers apparently become more aware of their shopping habits. "People see (the reusable bags) and think it's a good idea," said Zach Quinnell, assistant store manager at Econo Foods. "It helps keep our costs of supplies down, and it's good for the environment." Quinnell said they have been selling about 100 bags a week (at 99 cents each) for the past 8-9 months. Customers receive a 5 cent discount for bringing back the reusable bags, which, he said, are much more stable than the plastic or paper bags they also offer. At Super One, Grace's mother Dawn Andrews, said she is happy to use the $1 reusable bags instead of the plastic ones that have been piling up at her house. She plans to keep the reusable bags in the car and reuse them. "I think it's a great idea," Andrews said. Kyle L'Huillier, assistant manager at Super One, said he has sold roughly 800 bags in the last three months, adding that people are taking notice. "I have (also) noticed more customers are bringing back plastic bags," he said, cautioning that Super One can only let people reuse their plastic bags for their own purchase. Econo Foods has taken the grocery bag issue a step further. The store offers its customers plastic and paper recycling, Quinnell said. "They can bring them back and we ship them and recycle them," he said. Perhaps the most ambitious local undertaking regarding shopping bags can be found at the Marquette Food Co-op. "Our goal by the end of the year is to go completely bagless," said Jamie Metivier, front-end manager. Currently the Co-op offers free paper bags along with canvas bags that range in cost from $6 to $8, she said. "We have never used plastic bags," Metivier said. "But paper is not necessarily environmentally friendly. It takes five times as much energy to create paper bags than to make plastic bags. It can be very environmentally detrimental." That is one of the reasons why the Co-op plans to discontinue offering any paper shopping bags by the end of the year. However, searching for an alternative canvas bag at low cost has been a challenge, Metivier said. "The problem I'm running into is they are all made overseas," she said. Metivier said the Co-op's mission is to buy locally whenever possible; to make sure the companies they're buying from provide fair compensation and working conditions for their workers; preferably participate in fair trade laws; and to buy environmentally friendly. "We're just trying to reduce our carbon footprint," she said. The "carbon footprint" measures the climate impact of a business or household by by estimating how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are created by the activities carried on there. "We're trying to look at the overall impact," Gill added. Metivier said she would like to purchase cheaper bags similar to those the other stores are offering their customers around town, but those are made of polypropylene. "They are synthetic fiber," Gill said. "It's not a natural fiber like cotton or hemp, it's a manufactured product made from petroleum. The bottom line is they are made from a petroleum-produced product and petroleum is a non-renewable resource." Nonetheless, Gill said, they are much more environmentally friendly than paper and plastic bags. "We applaud the efforts of other local businesses who are leading the way in offering consumers an alternative to conventional paper and plastic bags," she said. "(However) rather than duplicating what other stores are already offering, we're looking at taking the next step. If all of us are working together collectively, we're making a difference."

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