Monday, January 12, 2009

Loblaws eliminating plastic bags

About time!!!

Loblaws is charging customers for a plastic bag.

They're charging 5 cents for a plastic bag and encouraging customers to bring their own bags, or use reusable canvas bags or plastic bins.

Impressions? Yeah, it's about time, and considering how destructive a plastic bag is on the environment, both in the time it takes to degrade and the precious petroleum resources used in its manufacture, it makes sense that Loblaws is having customers pay for bags. Payment is an efficient way to internalize a negative externality. It's no different in theory from a carbon tax, a California emission standards fee, or a fee for excess household garbage produced (although these are now managed as part of a really idiodic tag based program by the City of Toronto.

It'll be ineresting to see how shoppers react to this. Ecologically it makes sense. Economically it makes sense. But will Loblaws customers - particularly baby boomers - endorse this action as a responsible step taken to better environmental stewardship? Will they choose reusable bags or will they simply pay the extra 5 cents for the convenience?

Customers aren't going to abandon the convenience, selection, or quality of their local Loblaws all for the sake of having to pay for a plastic bag - at least I don't think this will be a significant wave of attrition, but it'll certainly change their concept of the Loblaws brand.

On the one hand you'll have customers who appreciate the retailer's action on this issue. On the other you could have customers who bitch and moan for no apparent reason. These people aren't exactly inconvenienced, but it's just a hassle for them to add anything new into their lives. Seriously, it's about time.

Loblaws PR will claim that this ia a progressive step forward that represents the organization's commitment to sustainability. But I'd be interested to know if the canvas bags they're selling instead have a greater carbon footprint than the plastic bags themselves. Oh, and I assume that a portion of the 5 cents for each plastic bag will go to an environmental cleanup organization?

Hmm, more input needed on this one...


Anonymous said...

Just so you know, the article states that any money not used to pay for the program will be donated to the World Wildlife Fund.

Nicholas Fodor said...

"Loblaws PR will claim that this ia a progressive step forward that represents the organization's commitment to sustainability."

I say it's a yawn of a shift that everyone now wants to beat big companies with a recycled pulp 2x4. The PR people at Loblaws are saying that the 5 cents isn't being used to cover the cost of the bags. Could you imagine the negative PR they'd get if they force consumers to pay for the bags only to line their own pockets? I'm pretty sure a bag costs them less than 5 cents, and that the mark-up on each food item well covers anything that goes into it. What's a million plastic bags at 5 cents? 50,000$? Now we can save a dozen trees. Whoopee.

To make a big difference, we can do what Europe is doing; charging approximately 40 cents per bag. Something they've been doing for a long time That's a huge dent to consumers and really changes a mindset. Not that Europeans are big polluters on their own.

It's getting tiresome to see companies make small operation shifts like this to keep the environmentalists at bay. These plastic bags, that are usually used to line rubbage bins or pick up your dog's #2 are just now going to have to be bought separately; then you'll have to pay 5 cents to bag it.

One of the areas where packaging reduction really makes dollars and sense to be is with the consumer goods themselves. The municipal government has some awesome ads circulating around Toronto of a digital camera in what's clearly a grossly over-sized foam container. I can't find a picture of it online. The ads themselves are awesome because it's something tactile we've all encountered. Apple has made big headways here for example. Remember when you got an Ipod and it took 30 minutes to find the damn thing in a cube of paper and compartments? Now the packaging is something like 60% less harmful, and adds to its immediate sex factor as it's displayed in its transparent box. We need more push to win-win situations like this, not 5 cent poop bags.