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Walmart Tries Plastic Bag Ban, But Will Public Buy In?

| Monday June 14th, 2010 | 15 Comments

With the proposed assembly bill, AB1998, California is on the verge of a total ban on disposable plastic grocery bags, and a fee on paper bags. If passed, the ban wouldn’t kick in until July, 2011, but Walmart has been doing some test runs on its own.

As part of its Plastic Bag Initiative, Walmart tested out a total ban on plastic bags at three California stores last January. The stores were picked to participate based on earlier tests among customers that suggested a favorable demographic. In the tests, all plastic bags were completely banned, and two types of reusable bags were offered for sale (small and large) at 15 cents and 50 cents each. The bright blue bags are made of a washable polypropylene material and are said to last about 75 uses each.

If you read the comments on The Sacramento Bee’s coverage of the experiment, you might think the world was coming to an end — the most hilarious were a string of comments predicting a massive salmonella outbreak. But regardless of the barrage of negativity and proclamations of the dawn of socialism, KCRA’s informal survey showed a majority of shoppers expressing more positive sentiments about a bag ban.

If AB1998 is passed some vocal shoppers may kick and scream, but the measure might actually end up saving money for all involved in the long run. Grocers will no longer have to supply bags at their own expense, and shoppers will have some one-time expenses – though hopefully for larger and higher quality bags than the little blue ones at Walmart, which, at least for the test run in January, were actually oil-based. Whether the environment benefits may also depend on the quality and materials of whatever bags wind up in the hands of consumers.


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  1. June 14, 2010 at 5:25 am PDT | V.Merchant India writes:

    Wal Mart is a retailing giant which could influence buyers across america. However, has Wal Mart done a comprehensive study of total enviromental impact of removing PE carry bags and compelling customers to buy it's new reuseable bags? I am sure whether the carbon footprint is reduced or not this will mean a huge cost savings for Wal Mart by not giving free bags.In several surveys done in not so affluent areas it is reported customers reuse these bags for other applications including garbage bags.In asia one knows each carry bag unless it is really flimsy and made from waste the customers use them time and again 8 or 10 times. I agree waste of resources must be avoided but a reality check is called for do the thick woven bags actually get used 70 or 80 times to justify such large use of materials and in the end where will they end up.Has Wal Mart first tried innovative communication campaigns to change waste of PE bags before withdrawing them probably saying people's habits cannot change.? Wal Mart as a leadewr could have done better rather than imposing costs on consumers this weay..

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  2. June 14, 2010 at 8:10 am PDT | Kyle England writes:

    Replacing petrol based based bags…with the same petrol based bags WTF!!?!?? We DO have plant based resources that can create the exact same(compostable/bio-degratable) product. Obviously they are not doing this for the enviornment and just looking to make more $$ by jumping on the green bandwagon. FAIL

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    • June 23, 2010 at 1:39 am PDT | dinesh writes:

      Kyle – My guess on the compostables is that it's a cost issue.

      Walmart probably doesn't want to pay 8-10x for a compostable bag (v. a plastic bag) when they can simply re-sell “stronger” plastic bags back to consumers.

      Still, I'd love to hear commentary from someone at Walmart on whether they've considered compostables. You'd think the BP spill would be making folks a little more conscious of the petrol-based consumables…

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  3. June 14, 2010 at 10:21 am PDT | Leon Kaye writes:

    The reality is that this is a good solid first step. I saw Wal-Mart's sustainability director speak at the GRI Conference in Amsterdam and I have to say I was impressed. There's no perfect “sustainability” solution for any issue we face–but there is always a best possible alternative. If we reduce plastic bag consumption significantly, with a huge consumer giant like WalMart taking the lead, this should be welcomed–not picked apart. This is good for the environment, good for companies, and in the long run, good for consumers. Great article!

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    • September 14, 2010 at 17:59 pm PDT | shyann writes:

      Look wall-mart is a scam and only does thing to make more money, they sell junk that brakes in a week and win you bring back they don’t even try to exchange, it and the staff are all over work and under payed and lied to all the time just like the customers. Yes it is cheap but do you no y it is so cheap? Here is the rill story they hire a comp to make fishing poles like let say 100.000 units at 20 dollars
      per unit the comp does so, no big dill they are ask could you make me 1000000 unit I will pay you 20 a unit. The company say ok thinking its wall mart they take out loans to put there order in they hire new people to fill it thin wall mart find someone that will do it for 18 dollars even win they have the other comp fist and just pay them that and the other comp goes out of biz and no one sees that. They see how great wall-mart is win they move in the mom and pop shops go and every one think good jobs they get payed good money till there is no one left to work for then they cut your pay and you say hay what and they say if you don’t like it go find a another job geese what there is only them left a good work environment.

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  4. June 14, 2010 at 14:28 pm PDT | Akron writes:

    Good first step for Wal Mart. I'd love to see them lead the charge. Hopefully 1998 passes. I do hope, however, that bag manufacturers step up their game to give us relaly high quality , large bags for groceries. Those little bags just clutter all over the place!

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  5. June 15, 2010 at 19:44 pm PDT | Bob Harris writes:

    Would have preferred that WalMart have thought more about the type of bags they featured during this test period, but either way it is encouraging to see that they are being proactive about the issue. For more thoughts on AB 1998, see my blog at: http://www.sustaintherevolution.com/2010/06/wha

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  6. June 18, 2010 at 15:00 pm PDT | Matt Holtry writes:

    They passed a “bag tax” in DC a few months ago. The 5 cents per bag went to pay for Anacostia River cleanup (a very worthy cause). Even so, many people cried Chicken Little and claimed lower income folks wouldn't be able to afford reusable bags. What an unfair tax on the poor! Then, after the bag tax passed, every grocery store in DC gave away free reusable bags for months to attract business. Even now, months later, you can still get free reusable bags in some locations when you spend $25 or more… To date, I am not aware of any grocery stores that have gone out of business or anyone starving as a result of the new tax.

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  7. June 21, 2010 at 15:12 pm PDT | Cal Solar Eng writes:

    This is great. People have already moved on from plastic bags but if they are there people will continue to use them as a crutch. I'm glad the state is taking the lead on this one and pushing everyone to act smartly.

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  8. June 21, 2010 at 22:12 pm PDT | Cal Solar Eng writes:

    This is great. People have already moved on from plastic bags but if they are there people will continue to use them as a crutch. I'm glad the state is taking the lead on this one and pushing everyone to act smartly.

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  9. July 08, 2010 at 3:23 am PDT | kerry writes:

    I don't use the bags they sell at the store. Doesn't anyone have canvas tote bags anymore?

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  10. September 06, 2010 at 21:55 pm PDT | kris writes:

    The problem with compostable bags (and food containers too) is that it is difficult to compost them. They don’t just compost in the landfill, they need to be sent to a commercial composting facility which usually isn’t available.

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  11. May 17, 2011 at 22:49 pm PDT | Manuel Martinez writes:

    Project GreenBag is the sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags. 100% organic cotton, biodegradable, affordable, and made in San Francisco California.
    http://www.ProjectGreenBag.com
    http://www.facebook.com/ProjectGreenBag
    http://twitter.com/projectgreenbag

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  12. September 09, 2012 at 7:08 am PDT | yzorg writes:

    this is not so new.. here in switzerland we banned plasticbags some time ago.. and we have no connection to the sea.
    we use recycled paperbags and reusable ones.

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  13. May 13, 2014 at 12:40 pm PDT | Keith writes:

    MY BUTTCRACK if you think that this will lower costs to the consumer? Really? The consumer will never see one penny of savings. It is a good story… but fiction!

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    [...] Walmart Tries Plastic Bag Ban, But Will Public Buy In? TriplePundit reports: “With the proposed assembly bill, AB1998, California is on the verge of a total ban on disposable plastic grocery bags, and a fee on paper bags. If passed, the ban wouldn’t kick in until July, 2011, but Walmart has been doing some test runs on its own.” [...]

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