JACKSON — Paper or plastic?
The cashiers at Jackson Whole Grocer can tell you: Some people have definite preferences about how they carry their purchases out of the store.
Since Whole Grocer phased out plastic bags in December and started offering only the paper variety, its checkout staffers have seen enthusiasm about the change but also a bit of resistance.
“Some are upset about it and want us to tell the manager they want the plastic bags back,” Caitlin Brooks said. “Others say, ‘It’s about time.’”
One woman told Brooks that paper bags are just as bad for the environment as the plastic variety. Mostly, though, the people who miss plastic liked being able to use the stretchy bags for other things, like cleaning cat litter boxes.
“It’s mostly the quality of the bags,” Brooks said. “They don’t have as many reusable purposes for paper bags.”
Starting Monday cashiers at other large stores in Jackson will probably be having similar conversations with customers.
April 15 is the day a new town ordinance bars grocery stores and large retailers (based on square footage) from using plastic bags at checkout and requires them to charge a fee for paper bags — except for people receiving state or federal food assistance. Come Nov. 1 the ordinance will apply to smaller retailers, too.
The ordinance may not come as a shock to out-of-owners. Pam McGuffey, one of Brooks’ colleagues at Whole Grocer, said she’s come across visitors from cities that have their own bag ordinances.
“A lot of tourists have always asked if there’s a charge” for a bag,” McGuffey said.
Besides Whole Grocer the stores in the April 15 group include Lucky’s Market, Smith’s Food and Drug, Albertsons, Kmart, Dollar Tree and TJ Maxx, said Carrie Bell, waste diversion and outreach coordinator for Teton County Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling.
The ordinance is part of the town’s goal of promoting practices that reduce waste and protect the environment. The response Bell has heard from residents “is mostly positive,” she said.
“People understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and are largely supportive,” Bell said. From the smaller businesses there’s been some “pushback for the inconvenience,” she said, but “I think time will solve that.”
As for tourists, “They get it,” Bell said. “We’re not unique in our community about what we’re doing.”
She too has heard the argument that paper bags aren’t any better for the environment than the plastic ones.
But “the resources it takes to create a single-use paper bag are exponentially less than to create a single-use plastic bag,” she said.
And paper bags have a second life as cardboard.
“Paper bags have high recyclability,” Bell said. “Plastics really don’t.”
The fee is designed to encourage people to bring reusable bags instead of having their items packed in paper.
“In our research,” Bell said, “in communities that don’t charge for paper bags you see a much higher plateau of bag use. The consumer is not learning to change their habits at the cash register. … It’s the same reliance on a single-use product as it was before.”
Paper bags are the only kind that Lucky’s has ever given away at checkout.
“At the front end we’ve never had plastic bags,” said Matt Wall, assistant store director.
The second part of the town ordinance, imposing a fee for paper bags, will be no problem for the grocery store in Powderhorn Plaza.
“All we have to do, technically, is get a button put in on the register that charges 20 cents for each bag used,” Wall said. “It’s super easy.”
Wall foresees big benefits for the store’s long-standing Bags for Change program. Customers receive a wooden dime for each reusable bag they use and donate it to one of several nonprofits. Lucky’s matches their contributions, which amount to 40 to 70 dimes a day.
More people will probably tote reusable bags when the ordinance goes into play, so that “means a ton more donations for the local charities,” he said.
Lucky’s has kept everyone up to speed about the April 15 change.
“We’ve been talking to our staff and customers and letting them know that it’s coming up,” Wall said. Locals are “kind of excited about it, to be honest. That’s what the company is about: sustainability practices.”
For Smith’s the town’s ordinance meshes with a commitment by its parent company, The Kroger Co., to “Zero Hunger/Zero Waste.” That includes reducing food, plastic and cardboard waste, said Aubriana Martindale, a division corporate affairs manager in Salt Lake City.
By 2020 Kroger aims to divert 90 percent of waste from the landfill, and by 2025 it plans to phase out use-once, throw-it-away plastic bags throughout its family of stores.
Within the Smith’s group of stores the company has experience with municipal bag ordinances, including in Park City, Utah, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, Martindale said.
“We work with all of our front-end managers and store managers to make sure they’re aware of the ordinance and that they’re prepared to help our customers though the transition,” she said. “We’re trying to make it as seamless as possible.”
A sign at Smith’s alerts customers to the pending change. It advertises, through April 14, a free reusable bag when they spend $50. It also reminds them that by bringing a reusable bag they earn fuel points, a program that will continue.
Though Jackson’s ordinance specifies a 20-cent paper bag fee, with half going to the town and half to the retailer, Smith’s plans to charge a dime.
“We will be charging the waste reduction fee of 10 cents that is provided to the city,” Martindale said. “We will not charge the additional 10 cents that is allowed for the retailer to receive.”
Asked if that was a competitive move, she said it was more a matter of “it being the right thing to do.”
Bell said it’s great that Smith’s is doing so much “front loading” to remind people that the bag ordinance goes into effect.
Integrated Solid Waste and Recyling employees, town employees and volunteers will be out in force to get the message out to any and all shoppers. They will station themselves in front of stores and at community events (see box) to answer questions and hand out bags.
Nearly 20,000 reusable bags have been ordered, and some 7,000 of them “will be out our doors” this week, Bell said.
Bags will be given to nonprofits as well, and ultimately every student in every school in the county will get one, Bell said.
“We also collected over 1,000 bags from the community during the bag roundup, which is significant,” she said. “ I’m really impressed.”
By Jennifer Dorsey
Jackson Hole News&Guide Via Wyoming News Exchange