At the Thursday Mid-City Green Market, home of all things green and natural, Gladys Core and Gay Redler of Taylor's Happy Oaks Farm in Folsom are packaging their beautiful eggplant and tomatoes " in traditional disposable bags. 'Oh, we see those nice reusable bags a lot more these days," Core says, 'but a lot of people forget them and leave them at home."
Dianne Caverly of Lakeview remembered hers. She's trained herself. But it hasn't been easy. 'I told my sister that if you're in the market and you forget them, you make yourself leave your full basket and go out to the car," she says. 'Three trips is all it takes." Hers come from Whole Foods. 'The best ones were from Sav-A-Center, and you can't get them any more," she adds.
Market manager Charlotte Ordeneaux is selling Green Market-branded bags, and has been since earlier this year. Today, though, people are more interested in her ginger-lemongrass iced tea than her $12 totes; she's sold only 15 of them in the last couple of months. They're sturdy cotton sacks, made in Pakistan. Are they organic?
'No. But they're bigger than regular bags. And cuter," Ordeneaux says, showing off the flat bottom that keeps the bag from tipping over. But even she admits that she slips up and forgets to bring it to the supermarket. 'If we could figure out a way to ingrain it in our brains," Ordeneaux says. 'I get so aggravated sometimes."
Welcome to the green new world of making groceries in New Orleans " a place sometimes characterized more by good intentions than actual results. Nowhere is that more obvious than in our uneasy relationship with our plastic grocery bags " those incredibly wasteful (and sometimes useful) totes that clog our landfills but make handy lunch sacks and bathroom trashcan liners.
Ireland, China and even environmentally unfriendly India and Bangladesh have made them illegal. (China boasts of saving 37 million barrels of oil each year by doing so.) Australia's voluntary ban has been accepted by 90 percent of the nation's retailers. San Francisco banned them by law earlier this year, and Los Angeles will follow suit in 2010. Seattle will be charging extra for them, and Portland, Ore., is weighing all options.
Some grocery chains (and nearly all of them on the green-friendly West Coast) actually provide incentives for shoppers to bring their own bags. During a post-Katrina stay in Portland, I found that grocer Fred Meyer gave me back 5 cents apiece for bringing my own bag. And the Trader Joe's chain gives reusable-bag shoppers raffle tickets; at the end of each month, someone in each store receives a $25 gift certificate.
While all major local chains " Rouses, Winn-Dixie and Whole Foods " sell their own reusable bags (mostly for 99¢ each), most don't provide much incentive to use them.
Tim Acosta, the advertising director for Rouses, says the chain began selling its branded 'green bags" in April, on Earth Day. 'It's been very successful, with lots of positive feedback from the customers." As for whether Rouses plans to offer rebates to customers who bring in their own bags, Acosta says, 'We haven't addressed that yet." (Winn-Dixie, which also sells reusable bags, did not return phone calls or an email for comment.)
At the Austin-based Whole Foods, it's a different story. According to Kristina Bradford, who represents the New Orleans-area Whole Foods stores, cashiers refund 5 cents per bag if a customer brings in his or her own paper or plastic bags; if a customer brings in a reusable bag, the reward is 10 cents.
The entire Whole Foods chain stopped using plastic bags entirely in January, and has moved beyond its standard 99-cent 'Better Bags" (made from 80 percent post-consumer recyclable bottles) into a whole line of designer-like totes " 'organic cotton, canvas, sustainable burlap," Bradford says. The store also debuted a luxe 'Feed 100" model bag in April. With each bag sold (at $29.99), the store will provide meals for 100 school-age children in Rwanda through the United Nations World Food Programme.
How mainstream has it gotten? Even Wal-Mart has joined in, selling $1 bags made of 85 percent recycled content. (The company gave away 1 million of them on Earth Day.)
My bags aren't that fancy, but when I bring them to a New Orleans supermarket, I'm usually the only one. (Most definitely the only guy.) Cashiers seem split on them " some regard them as an objectionable foreign body on the conveyor belt, while others say, 'Oh, that's smart." Regardless, local cashiers and baggers alike seem unable to realize that bags, plastic or cloth, can actually hold more than one or two items, and that seems the biggest waste of all; I've left the 10-items-or-fewer lane sometimes with as many as six bags. As Caverly told me at the Green Market, 'It would be a good step if some of these stores offered bagging lessons to their cashiers."
My solution? New Orleans Saints bags. Canvas ones, in black and gold. Sturdy, 'manly" ones that could never be mistaken for a froufrou bag from some boutique. Put the names and numbers of different players on them and get people to collect 'em all. Pack your pizza in Deuce and your paper towels in Drew. Oh, and have stores offer 5 percent off your beer total as an incentive. Ya' hear me, Tom Benson?
And if the Saints start to stink this year, you'll have the perfect bag ready for game day. Bags 411 A sobering piece about the fate of discarded plastic bags:
Are plastic bags really a menace? National Geographic says yes:
'Iran is building a nuclear bomb, and we're worried about plastic bags?"
Bags in a variety of materials (including hemp), some reasonable, some ridiculously priced: