If you’ve had the opportunity to visit us at Thrift & Thrive, perhaps you’ve come to notice that when you return home, your bag may have the name of an area grocery store, discount retailer, or pharmacy. That’s because every single time we bag your purchase, we’re using a bag that was used at least once before. We’re extending the “first” life of the product and, metaphorically, increasing its percentage of post consumer waste value by rescuing it from the trash or recycling bins, using it, and then passing it on to the next user. Perhaps then, and we hope, that next person uses it again, passes it to someone else, or disposes of it in a way that is responsible.
We started the practice of reusing shopping bags on day one, and I estimate that in the last year and a half, Thrift & Thrive has saved both the need to create approximately 27,500 new plastic bags, and the wholesale to retail direct cost of about $530 during that period of time. Add on shipping expenses from a supply distributor (both in terms of $ and environmental cost) and you’re just now beginning to see a true picture of the cost. As well, we have diverted the original 27,500 we reused away from the expense of recycling or carting to the landfill. It’s amazing to quantify the impact that one small retailer, in one city, can have on the big picture. As they say (and aren’t “they” so wise) change begins at home.
The principles in our personal lives bleed over into our business, and as you can see from our resolution this year, vice versa. When we first opened up back in July of 2011, it was a “no-brainer” that we were going to find an alternative to purchasing new bags since we did not ethically agree with it. Not only was it more in line with what we do in our industry, but for a start-up business that was boot-strappin’ it, it just made plain economic sense. We started with the grocery bags that we saved at home, coupled with some more that were collected for us by friends and family. As the donations started to come in, we were thankful that they were coming in reused plastic, paper and sometimes even cloth(!) retail bags. Every one of them got used. Pretty soon it was easy to see that the demand was going to outpace the supply, and so the need to find an alternative source was born. We put out shouts on Craigslist and Facebook, and have since even resorted to liberating them from the recycling bins at the neighborhood grocery stores. Talk about a last minute pardon!
There are so many items that you can recycle in your home, and even better, those that you can reuse multiple times before you recycle. We haven’t bought a trash bag in years, (among other common disposables) opting to re-use our plastic shopping bags instead. While this means that we don’t “traditionally recycle” every single one of our plastic shopping bags, it does mean that we have reduced the need for the manufacture, transport, sale and disposal of another plastic product. It’s funny, because even though we bring reusable shopping bags with us to the store, we still end up with these plastic bags in our house. They multiply on their own, and in rapid fashion! We’ve gone from throwing out probably one full-size brand name kitchen bag a week when we first got married, to one average grocery-size bag a week now with a family of four. That’s about a 75% reduction in waste over 10 years, simply by changing habits. Recycling and composting has made a tremendous difference, and now we look for ways to challenge ourselves to reduce even the amount that we recycle, which begins with the life-cycle of any product we bring into our home. This is not for the faint at heart!
I am not advocating that every retailer needs to have used bags in their stores, after all, that is not practical. Even I draw the line at using someone else’s used bag at the grocery store (so we bring our own!) When Melissa lived in the UK years ago, she became quite accustomed to bringing her own bag to stores with her (long before it was trendy in the US) because there, if you forgot your bag, they would charge you for one if they even had them available for sale at all! It’s an interesting spin on a problem that plagues our country, and might not be a bad solution. There are already stores that don’t offer bags (discount clubs and chains like Germany’s Aldi come to mind) here in this country, and I would hope scores of others at this point that use the same idea we do at Thrift & Thrive. Just yesterday I saw a plastic bag in a tree on my walk home from work, and it made me reflect on how glad I am that we have the ability to be part of the solution. So do you!