McHenry County group promotes eco-friendly grocery shopping

Defenders urge consumers to eliminate use of plastic bags

Marilyn Carlson came to Angelo’s Fresh Market in McHenry to pick up a couple of bell peppers, which she planned to use for dinner later in the evening.

At the checkout lane, Carlson, a McHenry resident, had her few items put into a canvas tote bag she usually keeps in her car, instead of one of the store’s plastic bags.

“I’m against the plastic bags,” said Carlson, who has used reusable bags for two years. “[Plastic bags] take up room in the garbage can. They’re only good for trash.”

Carlson’s attitude and practices would please the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, who have started an educational Bring Your Own Bag campaign in order to encourage the reduction of single-use shopping bags.

According to the BYOBag McHenry County committee’s mission statement, plastic bags cause long-lasting degradation to the environment, pollute waterways, overflow landfills and harm wildlife.

The committee wants people to change their habits and shift away from the convenience of plastic bags, and move toward more “responsible, sustainable” practices.

The BYOBag committee hopes to make presentations to village boards, city councils and the McHenry County Council of Governments to encourage a dialogue of eliminating plastic bags. It has already spoken to the Algonquin Village Board.

Committee members also have participated in local parades in Crystal Lake and Algonquin.

Among the suggestions the group recommends are municipalities adopt regulations that aim for lower plastic bag usage, such as banning plastic bags, or having stores charge for bags, such as what is done at Aldi’s.

Chicago has a plastic bag ban for stores that are bigger than 10,000 square feet scheduled to begin in August 2015. That ban will extend to smaller chain stores and franchises in August 2016, but small independent or nonfranchise stores and restaurants are not subject to the rules.

Los Angeles has banned plastic bags and placed a 10-cent charge on paper bags.

“Our committee’s [goal] ... is to further the idea that plastic and paper bags are not necessary,” Committee Chairwoman Cynthia Kanner said. “I’m talking about the plastic bags you get automatically at checkout. ... This is a convenience way of living. It’s not smart living.”

The committee wants to work with community leaders and businesses to educate people about bringing their own bags.

“Plastic bags aren’t free,” Kanner said. “The cost is passed on to consumers through grocery charges, and in the cleanup.”

Kanner said she would like to see municipal ordinances put in place that would make it cheaper for people to bring their own bags.

“If you just left it to people to make a change voluntarily, I just don’t think it will happen,” Kanner said. “Habits are hard to break.”

As a way of encouraging people to bring their own bags to stores, Kanner recommended charging for bags, such as charging a dime per plastic bag; 5 cents could go to the retailer, and 5 cents to the municipalities for green initiatives.

Algonquin Village President John Schmitt has expressed his support for the project. He added, however, that a group of municipalities would have to work together to help the effort.

“If Algonquin jumps this wholeheartedly and does it first, which I would love to do, the reality is we might get some [pushback] from our businesses because they would be afraid people wouldn’t want to go to their stores because they have to buy a bag,” Schmitt said during the committee’s presentation in June. “It’s something we have to do as a group.”

Algonquin Trustee Robert Smith said he supports the educational aspect, but doesn’t support a full ban.

“I think it’s a great idea if people choose to do so, but I don’t like forcing things like this on people or businesses,” Smith said. “If a business wants to volunteer, I applaud that. ... I believe in smaller, lesser government.”

For now, the committee has plans to place banners in grocery stores in Algonquin to encourage people to bring their own bags to stores.

Many people may use single-use shopping bags to pick up dog waste, but there are other plastic bags, such as bread bags, or plastic bags for grapes or sandwiches, Kanner said.

“You will not have a shortage of plastic bags even if you get rid of shopping bags,” Kanner said. “You’ll realize there are plenty of plastic bags out there without these single-use plastic bags.”

For a business, having customers who bring their own bags is financially beneficial.

Angelo Ingrao is the owner of Angelo’s Fresh Market in McHenry and Johnsburg.

His stores go through 12,000 to 15,000 plastic bags a week. The cost is about two cents a bag, once the store’s name is printed on them, Ingrao said.

“Unfortunately it’s something you can’t do without,” Ingrao said.

Having people bring in their own bags, however, would be helpful to the store, said Ingrao, who added it is more common to see reusable bags in the summer time because they tend to keep things cooler.

“For us it would be great,” Ingrao said. “Those bags get pretty expensive.”

On a recent grocery trip, Maria Medina of McHenry had the Angelo’s cashier put her items into the market’s plastic bags. She said she has tote bags at home, but didn’t have time to grab them before her trip to the store after work. 

The cart full of plastic bags, however, would be brought to a store that does plastic bag recycling, Medina said.

Medina said the plastic bags are convenient.

“If you get a [charge] for using the bags, you won’t use the bags anymore,” Medina said.

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