Many retailers across Canada have embraced the idea of reusable shopping bags, but one woman wants to go a step further.
Judy Lazar worked in Montreal’s fashion industry for more than 20 years before taking a few years off to raise her kids. She was looking for a new business opportunity and found one in the produce section. While at her local supermarket a few years ago, Lazar wondered what could be done about the plastic produce bags. She watched reusable bags catch on in Quebec, and realized that there was another place grocery stores and farmers’ markets could cut their use of plastic bags: in the produce section.
Dispensers holding rolls of plastic bags are scattered among fruit and vegetable aisles, and shoppers who carry their groceries out in reusable bags often fill them up with plastic-bag-wrapped produce.
“A year and a half ago, there were no reusable produce bags on the market,” Lazar said. “No one was selling them retail.”
So Lazar decided to make produce bags that would make grocery shopping a little more environmentally friendly. That meant taking into consideration the bags’ footprint — how the cotton used to make them was grown, where they would be manufactured and who would make them.
In a few weeks, shoppers at Loblaws, Provigo and Maxi stores in Quebec will have to pay five cents for every plastic grocery bag they take.
And as of Jan. 1, The Societe des alcools du Quebec (SAQ) stopped giving out single-use bags in an effort for wine lovers to bring in their own bags. Since 2006, when Metro became the first major grocery chain in Quebec to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags, Quebecers have embraced the environmentally friendly move. More than one in three shoppers in Quebec used reusable bags in 2007, according to Statistics Canada. Now grocery stores, pharmacies, home renovation stores and bookstores sell reusable bags. It has made it easier for shoppers to avoid plastic bags, and cut down on the more than 1 billion plastic bags that Quebecers use every year, clogging the province’s landfills.
In June 2009, Toronto will become the first major Canadian metropolis to enact a bylaw forcing all retailers to charge at least five cents per bag. Councillors hope the charge will lead retailers to hand out fewer bags and reduce consumer demand.
Many stores gave away free cloth bags last year in attempt to get people used to the idea.
B.C. Liquor Stores gave away reusable bags in December while the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, following similar moves in Nova Scotia and Manitoba, no longer offers plastic as a choice.
So, with reusable bags starting to become commonplace could produce bags be far behind?
The bags have been slowly taking off. In the past nine months, Lazar has sold more than 30,000 cotton produce bags, mainly in health stores, green general stores and hardware stores in Ontario and Quebec. She hopes to be in major retailers later this year, although a spokeswoman for Loblaws said the chain has no plans to phase out the plastic produce bags it supplies, nor to charge customers for them.
Lazar’s company, Credobags, makes bags using cotton grown in Turkey that is shipped to Montreal and spun into yarn here. Local workers weave the yarn into fabric, and then sew it into bags, which come in two sizes and sell for between $5 and $6 each.
Some people find the idea of buying a produce bag unnecessary, opting instead to skip produce bags altogether and place their fruits and vegetables loose in their shopping carts or baskets. Others reuse the plastic produce bags they already have. Lazar said she understands reducing the use of plastic produce bags like that, but notes a minority of people do so.
“I think most people just aren’t that green,” Lazar said. “They don’t get the idea of ‘no packaging.’ “
Plus, if you’re buying something like mushrooms, it’s nice to have a container to carry them in, she said.
“For me, this was looking to replace something that’s disposable with something that’s reusable.”