Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Canvas Grocery Bags - All They're Cracked Up to Be?

By Alex Pastlin

Canvas grocery bags have recently been making an appearance at the entrance to many grocery stores, selling for about $2 per bag. We know that plastic bags are bad for the environment, but are stores really trying to be more environmentally friendly, or are they just trying to get their customers to buy something else? Are canvas bags really more efficient than plastic bags?

A lot of grocery stores in different countries actually charge for the bags their customers use-even the plastic ones. Ireland has placed a customer tax on plastic bags. In these cases, it makes since to bring your own bag.

On the other hand, the United States is more dependent on their cars than some other countries. When customers walk, ride a bike, or take public transport to the grocery store, they tend to buy fewer items at once, although they might visit more often.

In the United States, where we have our SUVs, pick-up trucks, and minivans, we tend to fill our carts full and make a couple of big grocery visits a month. So is it even reasonable to use canvas bags for people who shop like this? If you do two or three large grocery shopping trips every month, you're probably coming away with 10+ plastic bags at a time. How many canvas bags would that take?

Knowing that the plastic bags are not environmentally friendly is one reason to make the switch. In San Francisco, a law was even passed making it illegal for large grocery stores to use plastic. Boston is considering this as well. Biodegradable paper bags are offered instead, although some customers feel that this increases logging production.

However, most shoppers report that they have made the switch to canvas bags and feel good about themselves. They say that it's rewarding to feel as if they are doing their part in "going green."

Even though many plastic bags end up clogging drains, piled in the landfill, and flying helter-skelter through the streets during a gusty day, some people have found other ways to use the bags, even though less than 3% are recycled. You can always use them to line small garbage cans instead of buying a large box of garbage bags or use them to line cat littler boxes.

Some shoppers argue that plastic bags aren't as sturdy as canvas bags are the poor quality makes them awkward to use. It takes more plastic bags than canvas bags to hold groceries since plastic has to be doubled for heavy items and can rip on box edges. Canvas tends to hold more weight.

Paper bags of the past were more environmentally friendly, but they weren't always user-friendly. Most lacked handles and were hard to carry. Canvas bags have handles, making them easier to tote around.

If customers don't want to purchase a canvas bag at the grocery store, they can always find them online or in other shops. There are many websites that sell canvas grocery bags and they can usually be personalized as well.

If shoppers want to go this route and find one elsewhere, they can usually find some that come with shoulder straps, which come in handy when walking long distances.

If customers do want to switch to the canvas bags instead of relying on the plastic bags, it might take some readjusting. An alternative is to make several small trips to the grocery store instead of one large trip so that you're not carrying as many groceries at once. Of course, you can always just buy several canvas bags as well!

An advantage of the canvas bags is that even though they tend to cost about $2 per bag, they last a long time. If shoppers use them properly, they should last about six months. They can also be washed and some are made from recycled materials.

In the future, if more laws are passed, it might not be up to the customer as to whether or not they want to use canvas or plastic. In that case, customers might want to go ahead and start getting used to them now.

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