Austin plastic bag ban passed, stores and customers must accommodate

Rachel Thompson

With the passage of a new city ordinance that will ban the use of disposable bags next year, some Austin grocers may have to alter parts of their stores in order to comply with the ban.

The ordinance was passed last week after several years of discussion over prohibiting paper and plastic bags and will go into effect in March 2013.

CVS manager Phil Wallace said the ban may present challenges for his store because of the integration of plastic bags in the checkout system.

“It looks like it could be an issue,” Wallace said. “Our registers are set up with specific-sized plastic bag rack holders, so I’m not quite sure yet how all this is going to shape out.”

While revising the physical layouts may be an inconvenience, Wallace said he believes the plastic bag ban is a positive step for customers to develop environmentally conscious habits.

“I think it’s a good thing, and I think in Austin we’ll see a favorable response to it in general,” he said. “But there’s still a lot of unknowns at this stage.”

While the concept of reusable bags is relatively new to stores like CVS, Wheatsville Food Co-op has promoted the idea for a while now, said brand manager Raquel Dadomo.

“We have socially aware, environmentally conscious customers who are already in this mindset to begin with, so it’s not too huge of a leap,” Dadomo said. “I think it’s going to be a big deal for other retailers, but not so much for us.”

Wheatsville also has a system that rewards customers for bringing their own reusable bags, Dadomo said. Each customer who brings a reusable bag receives a nickel which can go toward their purchase or toward a nonprofit organization the store is sponsoring that particular month, she said.

This reward system encourages shoppers to use recyclable bags, she said, and the donation program raised around $1,000 last year. Wheatsville’s policy helps customers give back to the community and also reflects the store’s environmentally conscious ideals, she said.

“It’s more about a sustainability measure for us,” she said. “We try to make sure that we’re really accessible. For us, it’s an overall measure to take care of the planet.”

Dadomo said Wheatsville customers are also in support of the bag ban. The store has conducted surveys through its Facebook and Twitter pages to gauge how the community is feeling about the bag ban, and the store has received much positive feedback about it, she said.

“Our customers are saying it’s about time,” she said. “People seem to embrace it.”

Advertising freshman Jennie Lee Gruber, a frequent Wheatsville shopper, said she sees reusable bags as a good habit and not as an inconvenience.

“I’m a big recycling person, so it’s part of my routine to always take a bag,” she said. “I think that once you get in the habit, it’s just like taking your wallet.”

Gruber also said recyclable bags are an easy-to-use container for college students who don’t have as many groceries or a whole family to support.

“I really think it’s more convenient because it makes you shop for what can fit in our bag, and for a college kid, you only need one,” she said. “I think it would be harder on moms shopping for their whole family.”

Printed on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 as: Chain stores more affected by bag ban ordinance