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Grocery Store Wages War Against Single-Use Plastic Pollution

Source: Radio-Canada / Alexandre Milette-Gagnon

Plastic pollution is ruining the environment, killing terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, and emitting greenhouse gasses into Earth’s atmosphere. If we don’t act now, our beautiful planet will only continue to succumb to the consequences. That’s why some people – including David Lee Kwen, who owns a supermarket in Vancouver – are taking matters into their own hands.

Vancouver’s East West Market Has A Simple Solution

In 2019, East West Market – a beloved grocery store in Vancouver, Canada – recognized that their efforts to promote the use of reusable bags were going nowhere. On one hand, they had customers with no interest in making the switch. On the other hand, they had customers willing to make the switch, but frequently forgetting their reusable bags at home.

Source: Facebook/East West Market

Their solution? Make people think twice before using single-use plastic bags. How were they going to achieve it? By printing embarrassing logos of fake companies on the front of the plastic bags. They were still allowing customers to purchase plastic bags, but not without feeling at least a little shame or guilt.

Some Of The Bags Read ‘Wart Ointment Wholesale

“Dr. Toews Wart Ointment Wholesale,” read one of the bags in big blue letters – big enough that others could see it from a distance. “The Colon Care Co-op,” another one read in dark maroon letters, while a third design said, “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium” in bright orange letters.

Source: East West Market

But don’t be fooled – Kwen wasn’t out to embarrass his customers. He wanted to make them laugh but, at the same time, wanted to raise awareness of a global crisis that’s only getting worse. “We want to help customers remember their reusable bags in a way that will really stick with them,” he said in an interview with The Guardian.

When Bag Fees Didn’t Work, They Switched Their Strategy

Believe it or not, this isn’t Kwen’s first attempt at changing his customer’s consumption habits. In an effort to disincentivize the use of plastic bags, he introduced a $0.05 fee for every plastic bag a customer used. Unfortunately, customers opted to pay the extra nickel – as opposed to buying a reusable bag.

Source: Facebook/East West Market

So, why didn’t his initial plan work? Well, according to Kwen, people don’t like being told what to do – and that’s exactly what they were doing by forcing an upcharge. While they still impose that five-cent charge per bag, they changed their strategy to better relate to the customers they see daily.

Now They Have Plans Of Making Reusable Versions

Kwen was hoping his new initiative would work, and it certainly brought a lot of attention to his business, but it started to backfire when word got out. The more viral the story became, the more people wanted to buy the bags as a collector’s item – the bags were, in a way, having an adverse effect on the original vision.

Source: East West Market

East West Market had another solution. Since the bags were so popular, why not move the funny company names and logos to the reusable bags? Well, that’s exactly what they did. Within a few months, customers were finally purchasing the reusable bags – and were actually using them this time around!

The World Is Currently Facing A Plastic Bag Crisis

Plastic bags are everywhere, and it’s becoming a problem. Scratch that – it has been a problem for decades now, and it’s not going away anytime soon. In fact, the world currently produces more than five trillion plastic bags every year, and more than 160,000 plastic bags are distributed every second.

Source: Shutterstock/Rich Carey

Considering we get an hour or two of use out of them before throwing them out, plastic bags might be one of the most unnecessary items we use daily. And when you couple that with how damaging they are to the world around them, it’s clear that these plastic bags need to go – and it needs to happen now.

Plastics Never Break Down, But They Get Broken Up

The world produces more than 350 million tons of plastic every year, but most of it ends up in landfills, on the street, or in the oceans. Unfortunately, plastic takes more than 700 years (up to 1,000 years, in some cases) to decompose – meaning it sits there for nearly a millennium.

Source: Shutterstock/Mohamed Abdulraheem

Even then, plastics never fully break down – they just get broken up into smaller pieces, known as microplastics. These microplastics are less than 5 mm in size and are often consumed by marine life, land animals, and humans. In fact, you can find them in your drinking water and seafood.

Single-Use Plastics Are Ruining The Environment

Single-use plastics make up roughly half of all plastic produced in the world today – accounting for roughly 175 million tons. Aside from plastic bags, other types of single-use plastics include bottles (water, soda, etc.), wrappers (candy, food, etc.), cutlery (spoons, forks, knives), and straws (restaurants, fast food chains, etc.).

Source: Shutterstock

Most plastics take a while to decompose, but single-use plastics often take the longest. They’re also harder to recycle, and sometimes not even accepted by recycling centers. The more we produce it, the more we use it, and the longer it sits there – damaging our planet. It truly is a vicious cycle.

How Does Plastic Pollution Impact The Climate Crisis?

Plastic primarily consists of chemicals made from fossil fuels – oil, gas, and coal, to be specific. That means every phase of its life cycle – from the extraction to the transportation, refining, manufacturing, and disposal of it – results in carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants finding their way into Earth’s atmosphere.

Source: Shutterstock/Romolo Tavani

So, what does that mean? It means plastics have an alarming carbon footprint from all the greenhouse gases they emit into the air. In fact, plastics account for roughly 3-4% of all global emissions – which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s staggering.

What Can We Do To Stop Plastic Pollution In Its Tracks?

The good news is there’s a lot we can start doing today to reduce our dependence on harmful plastic. The bad news is most people aren’t willing to make the necessary changes to achieve that goal – and it’s only making the problem worse.

Source: D-Keine from Getty Images Signature via Canva

If you want to do your part, start replacing plastic items with reusable items – such as reusable bags, water bottles, straws, and containers. Cooking more often will help avoid all the plastic used by restaurants and fast food chains, while supporting local and federal initiatives can help spread awareness and keep the pressure on the government to act.

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Ryan Handson

Written by Ryan Handson

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