Two years ago Mallard’s Source for Sports in Nelson and Castlegar used 30,000 plastic shopping bags per year. Now they are down to less than 10,000.
How have they done this? It’s remarkably simple.
“We ask people if they need a bag,” owner Dale Donaldson says. “That’s all it takes.”
But recently his staff have taken to nudging customers a bit further.
“Do you want a bag?”
“Really? Do you want a bag?”
“No, you’re right, I don’t need a bag.”
Also changing, says Donaldson, is customers’ habit of buying a pair of shoes in a box, then putting the box in a plastic bag.
“We sell a lot of shoes, so that means 5,000 boxes a year that need to get recycled.”
But in 2019, many people don’t want the bag or the box, he says.
Recently the City of Nelson and the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce declared their October SUP (single-use plastic) Challenge. But Mallard’s, along with Valhalla Pure, Safeway, Hume Hotel and the Kootenay Co-op are among many businesses in Nelson that didn’t wait for that. They had already started.
Valhalla Pure: governments should step in
Valhalla Pure ditched plastic bags two years ago, replacing them with a choice: take a paper bag or one of the company’s reusable cloth bags.
The cloth bags are free even though company owner Sam Baio says they cost him $2.50 each. What he is hoping is that customers will bring them back for re-use, and not harbour a collection of his bags in their houses.
Baio says he would have supported an outright ban on single use plastic bags in Nelson — something city council considered but rejected in favour of an educational approach.
He says he’s glad to do his bit in his store but a solution to the world’s plastic bag problems lies at the government level.
“It will take more than a few stores downtown. I would prefer more government regulations so we don’t have to make individual decisions. Because why is this fair when [large department stores] still give out plastic bags, more than I would have ever given out?”
Baio says another reason for government intervention is that so much of his plastic use is out of his control, namely the plastic used by his suppliers.
“There is a lot of waste in the world of shipping. We have a prominent online store, and there we use re-used boxes, and we don’t use plastic stuffing and bubble wrap.”
Safeway: no plastic bags for groceries or produce by Feb. 1
Nelson’s Safeway store manager Jamie Simpson told the Star his company is going plastic bag free as of Jan. 31. There will be no plastic bags at the till after that, and none in the produce department either, in all Safeway stores.
Currently the store uses 90,000 bags per month.
He said his store is taking city council’s plastic free month as a way or ironing out the kinks for the January transition, and educating people about their plans.
Recently they have been offering paper shopping bags, but they often run out. And they are offering boxes, but they run short on those also.
“So ideally everyone is bringing their reusable bags,” Simpson says. “That is the shift in habits we need to make, as a community. As humans we have to do this.”
In the produce department, Simpson says the store is beginning to offer reusable mesh washable produce bags. He says many people have been asking for this for years.
“People have a few months now to get into using those and remembering them.”
He says the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People are saying it’s about time.”
Hume Hotel: an opportunity to make an impact
Ryan Martin, the general manager of the Hume and Best Western Hotels, says he was surprised the city didn’t go for an outright ban.
“So we thought, let’s do a self-imposed plastic bag ban.”
That’s mostly for the Hume 2 Go delivery service and at the Hume liquor store, which uses 50,000 bags per year.
“A lot of people on deliveries have commented they appreciate it and our liquor store manager says a lot of people just don’t go for a bag at all more often now. They just choose not to.”
Martin says the Hume is working to replace individual shampoo and conditioner bottles with dispenser units that staff will refill from a four-litre container. They have also stopped using plastic drinking straws.
“We own and operate two hotels, so we do have an opportunity to make an impact,” Martin says. “Fifty thousand bags a year is a lot.”
Kootenay Co-op: it’s about gradual improvement
Kootenay Co-op marketing manager David Reid says the organization is participating in several events this month: a presentation at the Green Home and Energy Show about plastic sheets reduction, the Basin Food Summit in Rossland and in an upcoming pilot program for a deposit system for reusable cups in coffee shops.
He said the co-op’s food service has switched from plastic to wooden cutlery, created displays on how to reduce plastic use, increased their prize draw incentive for people bringing in their own containers, and long ago stopped using plastic shopping bags.
He said the store is gradually improving but it’s a big project.
“Unfortunately right now using plastic is largely unavoidable because so much food arrives here from somewhere else. It is in plastic when it gets here,” he said, “so obviously the best choice people can make is to buy things that come in large packages, or take them home in their own containers.”
He said buying local food and buying in bulk is the best way of reducing personal plastic use and the co-op promotes this to its customers.
“What we are doing specifically this month is helping with the city’s program to raise awareness of it,” Reid said.