There's paper. There's plastic. Then there's the $960 reusable Hermes shopping bag. Originally designed for discerning Europeans, it hits...
There’s paper. There’s plastic. Then there’s the $960 reusable Hermes shopping bag.
Originally designed for discerning Europeans, it hits America this summer, and if it sounds like an exotic fluke, consider the new $843 grocery tote by Italian designer Consuelo Castiglioni of Marni.
Or the $495 organic cotton canvas shopper, due out in June from Stella McCartney.
Or the now-famous I’m Not a Plastic Bag by the British handbag designer Anya Hindmarch, which has been selling at more than 10 times its $15 price on eBay.
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Or even the latest addition to Trader Joe’s lineup: a bright blue-and-green print polypropylene supermarket sack that has been flying off the shelves at $1.99.
In a confluence of politics, eco-consciousness, fashion and global commerce, yet another great, green notion appears poised for mainstream consideration: the bring-your-own shopping bag. Until recently, those sturdy cloth totes that are common in Europe were mostly confined in this country to farmers markets and health-food co-ops (and even there, only in the sternest, oat-iest styles and colors). Now, whether they are chic and pricey or cheap and cheerful, they are vehicles for a range of self-expression.
Part of the impetus is environmental. Among the ecologically minded, the paper-or-plastic question is an evergreen dilemma. Paper bags mean dead trees and paper-factory pollution, but most plastic bags are derived from petroleum and create litter that clogs landfills and takes as long as a thousand years to decompose.
But the trend toward reusable shopping bags also has gotten a push from the fashion industry, particularly in Europe, where consumers tend to grocery-shop daily and laws encourage bag reuse — and where designers have seized on the old-style tote bag like stylists going to work on an aging hippie in a beauty salon.
The new Stella McCartney organic canvas shopper is an expression of the designer’s eco-consciousness and a luxury handbag, according to her spokeswoman. Castiglioni said her foldable nylon bag was inspired by the desire to discourage the use of plastic and by her upbringing: “Reusable shopping bags are common in the Italian food shopping tradition,” she explained via e-mail.
Meanwhile, the I’m Not a Plastic Bag, a canvas shopping bag bearing the aforementioned saying, grew out of a 2004 campaign by a London nonprofit to persuade the public there to make small lifestyle changes to benefit the environment. The campaign, WeAreWhatWeDo.org, asked consumers to reduce the number of plastic bags they were using and recruited Hindmarch, a luxury-handbag designer, to create a fashionable alternative for shoppers. The bag sold out within days of its debut.
But the U.S. isn’t Europe. Tote bags brim from the nation’s closets and clutter the nation’s doorknobs, and most Americans still find it inconvenient to haul them back and forth to the supermarket.
“I’ve got teenagers,” said Andy DeVilling, vice president of sales for Superbag, a major plastic-bag manufacturer in Texas, who believes that recycling is a better answer. “I just don’t know how I’m going to take 10 or 12 reusable bags to the grocery store once a week.”
Nonetheless, the hope, among activists and designers, is that Americans might consider even a small shift in the habits that are driving nearly 90 percent of the market to take purchases home in disposable plastic.
At a Trader Joe’s in Southern California, crew member Mike McGrath said he had seen a noticeable increase in personal-bag use — possibly driven, he added, by the store’s monthly raffle that awards a $50 gift certificate to customers who bring their own totes. Shopper Wendy Bryan recently won her local Trader Joe’s bring-your-own-bag raffle — and hers wasn’t even a Hermes. “Just an old ‘I Love New York’ bag with this really dumb underwater scene on one side,” she said.