On Earth Day 2006, we started a program called Beans for Bags where we reward shoppers who bring their own bag, take a used bag or use no bag at all. We give them 1 bean for each bag and they donate that bean to one of four local non-profit organizations. The Co-op turns that bean into money and donates it to the chosen organization. Each year sixteen local non-profit organizations are chosen to be the recipients of these donations. The containers we collect the beans in allow four organizations at a time to receive beans, so each elected non-profit receives donations for one quarter. While the donation amount is set at $2000 per quarter, the money is divided between the four organizations according to how many beans they receive in their box. We also have a bag share program where we accept donations of cloth bags, sew a label onto them with our logo on it and allow people to borrow them. This program has been in place for at least 20 years and we have labeled thousands of bags that are now out in the community. We give people a bean if they use one of these bags, as well.
First Alternative currently donates $8000 per year to this program and we educate all of our staff on how it works so they can share the information with their customers. Our community participates in several ways. The 9000+ owners of the Co-op vote to decide which organizations become the recipients, our shoppers decide which organization receives their bean, and local organizations encourage their supporters to shop with us and to give them their bean. The program offers many teaching moments to parents to help their children learn about helping others and what organizations in our community do. Children and adults alike love getting their beans and choosing which organization will receive their bean vote.
This program has two objectives – the motivation for starting it was to save resources. We have reduced the amount of new paper bags we purchase by about 85%. The second objective was to help local non-profit organizations while saving resources. Many of our local organizations have come to rely on the money they receive from us to help fund their programs. Both objectives are accomplished through this program.
Corvallis residents have a reputation for being highly invested in caring about our planet and saving resources. Giving them an opportunity where they are saving resources and helping local organizations is a win/win situation. Organizations reach out to their supporters to encourage them to vote for them in the election, and with their bean when they shop. The $8000 we donate is a set amount, but an organization can increase the amount of the money they receive by more people choosing to give them their bean. Since the program’s inception we have donated nearly $80,000 to local organizations; in better economic times we were blessed to able to donate more than $8000 per year. We have saved over 1,000,000 bags from being used. To further encourage people to participate, we began charging for paper bags on July 4, 2009 (we called it Independence from Bags Day). In January 2013 Corvallis’ City Council has now passed an ordinance banning plastic bags at checkout (the Co-op has never used plastic bags for carry out) and requiring that all Corvallis businesses to charge a minimum of 5¢ per paper bag. The pictures attached to this application show several ways we get involved in our community because programs like our Beans for Bags program helps strengthen our ties to the residents of our city.
"First Alternative instituted the Beans for Bags program in 2006; additionally, on July 4, 2009 we began charging for new paper bags at the register, to further encourage our shoppers to bring their own bags. On January 1, 2013, the entire City of Corvallis is following suit, adopting a ban on plastic bags for carryout and requiring all businesses to charge customers for the use of a new paper bag. We are proud that we were the forerunners in this practice and that we were able to provide our City Council with testimony of an example of a thriving business that had positive reaction from the community for this step toward sustainability." Cindee Lolik, General Manager First Alternative Co-op