I’ll have to talk to Pablo about the actual calculations behind this, but my hunch is that giving a way free high-quality reusable shopping bags makes smart business sense for a supermarket chain. The reasoning is that it’s a one time cost, which ought not to be all that high with the right economies of scale in place, and once the bags are in regular use, the company gets free advertising wherever the bags are used. Additionally the company earns big amounts of goodwill and loyalty on behalf of customers. It avoids some amount of cost on plastic and paper bags that it would otherwise have had to supply, and possibly avoids government regulation by taking a voluntary proactive step toward reducing waste.
Sainsbury’s (a major UK chain) has done just that. They’re giving away what they call a “bag for life” tomorrow across the UK. It’s not a canvas bag, but rather a bag made to last for repeated uses. It is made of plastic that is said to be 100% recycled and once it wears out, it can be exchanged for a new one at no cost.
Granted, I’m not sure what “100% recycled means in this case, and I’m not sure exactly how durable a bag meant for “repeated uses” is. I wonder how much more expensive (in both dollar terms and environmental terms) a canvas bag that actually lasts a lifetime would be.
Nonetheless, if Sainsbury’s calculations are even half as glamorous as they suggest, this idea obviously has high environmental as well as fiscal merit for all involved.