Compostable bags win few fans in D.C.
- (Photo: Associated Press)
The green movement has overtaken the D.C. grocery-shopping experience. Shoppers demand less beef and more locally grown, pesticide-free cucumbers. Repurposed wood planks replace vanilla tiles on aisle floors. Solar-powered skylights illuminate rows of organic peanut butter.
Yet even a trend this sweeping has its limits, a threshold of do-gooderness that most local businesses won't cross. That would be the compostable bag. Customers don’t ask for them. Manufacturers don’t like making them. Stores hate paying for them. MOMs Organic Market switched from regular plastic to compostable produce bags in 2010, a move compelled entirely by principle and not at all by good business sense.
“It’s not even twice as expensive,” says MOMs spokesperson Charis Egland-Smith. “Like 10 times as expensive.” The store went through them faster than expected. “It wasn’t until we started looking more and more at the invoices [that we realized] we’re going through more and more bags.”
It doesn’t help that the bags are lousy. “The quality isn’t as good as the regular plastic bags,” she explains. “So people use two of them.”
So, we're talking about high cost and low quality. No wonder they haven't caught on. “We’re still looking for produce bags,” says Garland McQueen, director of operations at Yes! Organic. “The produce bags are so thin. It’s difficult to get a good, a really good, biodegradable produce bag.” The store has tested a few options but was dissatisfied with their performance. “They have a shelf life,” he says, “and they’ll lose their strength.” Plus, he says, there's not a lot of demand for them among shoppers.
Safeway is pursuing in-store composting as a way to deal with store waste, but has no plans to push a compostable bag, says spokesperson Craig Muckle. “To an extent, everyone wants to be environmentally conscious,” he says, but agrees that stores have to find a balance between principle and the bottom line. “I think by and large, it’s supposed to have some kind of intrinsic benefit to the business.”
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