BELLINGHAM - Local shoppers will no longer have to decide between paper and plastic at the check-out stand starting Wednesday, Aug. 1, when Bellingham's ban on single-use plastic bags goes into effect.
Instead, they'll have to choose what type of reusable bag best suits their shopping trip, or else pay 5 cents each for paper bags from the store.
Now that more cities are passing plastic bag bans, the options for reusable bags are growing. Shoppers can choose portable nylon, durable canvas or the simple bags that most grocers have for sale near their check-out stands.
"The best bag is one that is going to carry weight, that you can wash and that you can use over and over again," said Brooks Anderson, one of the proponents of the plastic bag ban and a member of the group Bag It Bellingham.
For John Wolpers, environmental health manager at the Whatcom County Health Department, cleanliness is at the top of the list when it comes to choosing a reusable tote.
"The big thing is to find a bag that works for you that you can launder and clean, and use common sense," he said.
Shoppers should keep ready-to-eat foods such as vegetables or fresh bread away from packages of meat that could drip and cause cross-contamination, just as they do with the old plastic bags, he said.
Anderson said she prefers cloth or canvas bags because they're durable and easy to toss into the washing machine, as are the nylon bags that scrunch up for easy portability. To find bags locally, Anderson suggested checking out the artists at the Bellingham Farmers Market for something fun to carry. Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts, Buffalo Exchange and Trader Joe's also have great totes, and the Bellingham Food Co-op offers a variety of reusable options, she said.
Some of the store-brand totes can be flimsy, and bags manufactured with plastic aren't ideal, she said, but really, any kind of reusable bag is a step forward.
"Any reusable bag is better than a bag - whether paper or plastic - that's going to have a limited use and end up in our landfills or in our waterways," Anderson said.
The plastic bag ban affects all stores in Bellingham, not just grocers. So people heading to Bellis Fair mall may have to tote along their own bags or pay for a store's paper bags.
Target is ready for the change, said Jag Johal, a supervisor at the Bellingham location.
"This has been rolled out in other states and other stores around the country, and we've definitely partnered a lot with other bag-ban stores and learned from their mistakes," he said. "The transition shouldn't be too difficult for us."
Employees have put up signs around the store to let people know that they won't offer plastic bags starting in August. They'll charge 5 cents per paper bag, but they'll also offer a discount of 5 cents for each reusable bag used in an order. His advice for mall shoppers is to bring bags that are easy to fold or bunch up and store, so they aren't walking around a department store with big, empty bags.
The most difficult part of the process might be remembering to bring the bags into the store, Anderson said. When she transitioned to using reusable totes, she was constantly walking back to her car after forgetting to bring her bags with her.
"Over and over I hear people say, "Oh, I have them but they're in my car and I forgot to bring them in,'" she said. "It's about making the shift in your mind and your habits."
MAKE YOUR OWN BAG
Fourth Corner Quilts, 1844 N. State St., is offering workshops for people who'd like to make their own reusable totes. The classes cost $5 and include materials, instruction and use of sewing machines. No sewing experience is necessary. Classes run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 30 and Aug. 1, 3 and 4. To reserve a spot, call 360-714-0070.
Reach ZOE FRALEY at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 756-2803.