New bag law? My supermarket has been charging for bags for years

It was front page news that Portland will be imposing a nickel per bag fee at grocery stores. I think this is a good measure. At the very least it should cut down on the wanton over-bagging that leads to single-item bags for things like chicken; and may restore some of the craft into packing grocery bags to maximize their capacity; Tetris players take note.

It won’t change the way I shop, as my supermarket has been doing this for years. As was reported back in 2007 Save-A-Lot stores have a national policy to charge for bags, a nickel for the small ones, a dime for the big ones. [By the way does anyone remember the other kind of nickel-bag?]

But the ecologically responsible practices don’t stop there. Instead of bags most shoppers re-use the cardboard boxes in which the food is shipped; what’s more Save-A-Lot stores are much smaller, stock fewer items, do not offer waste-intensive prepared foods/salad bars, do not use ice, and are located in densely populated low income neighborhoods. (This is not to say there isn’t still room for improvement at Save-A-Lot, there most obviously is.) In contrast, the Hannaford supermarkets in the area are sited for easy automotive access, whereas Whole Foods waits for the development to happen around them.

The point of all this is that our food system is a multi-dimensional matrix from seed (or lab) to compost pile; indeed approximately 25% of food energy is wasted in the home: from things going “bad” in the fridge, to dumping leftovers; to chucking out trimmings which are otherwise usable. Thus, consumers (in a broad sense of shoppers, cooks, and eaters) can exercise a lot power by considering our shopping choices holistically: walk to the grocery store; wash (instead of peel) carrots, potatoes, and turnips; make stock from the bones and drippings of a roast chicken; use bacon drippings and meat trimmings instead of lighter fluid to fuel a charcoal grill, etc.

A nickel spent on each plastic bag is a good reminder that our consumer choices extend far beyond that of conventional vs. organic cauliflower (the leaves of which are perfectly edible, by the way).



Zack Barowitz

About Zack Barowitz

Zack Barowitz is a writer, artist, and flâneur. He is the radio host of "This Land Is" on WMPG Tuesday nights at 7:30. His work can be seen at