Our food co-op has never given out plastic bags and has always encouraged member/owners to bring their own bags as well as their own containers for produce and bulk food. In 2008, we began the Beans for Bags program in which we gave our member/owners the choice of receiving either a nickel refund for each container or bag they bring for their groceries, or a bean worth five cents that they can drop in their choice of glass gallon jars designated for three local non-profit organizations. One of those three non-profit organizations is always the county food bank. The other two choices come from nominations made by the member/owners themselves. Those organizations typically serve local schools including Head Start, the local NAMI chapter, the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program, the homeless shelter, the animal shelter, the public library, the local hospice, a free clinic, United Good Neighbors, local farmer support, Habitat for Humanity, and an abused women’s shelter, among others.
We are a small town with a population of nearly 9,000, and response to the program was immediate. In the past four years, our Beans for Bags program has contributed $35,092.62 to these local non-profit organizations. This means over 700,000 bags were never manufactured or used, and our landfill is that much less cluttered for it.
The Beans for Bags program does three things. It creates a greater sense of community by allowing our member/owners to contribute daily to the well-being of those less fortunate than them. It teaches children of all ages the concepts surrounding non-profit organizations and what it means to give back to their community. Finally, it is a continual reminder of how one person can make a difference for the environment and for their neighbors without much effort at all.
In addition to the above mentioned monetary impact and success of the Beans for Bags program, we feel the awareness this program generated was at least partially responsible for the acceptance and passage of a plastic bag ban recently implemented by our city council. Now, no matter what store people shop at here in Port Townsend, there are no plastic bags given away. The new law also mandates a nickel charge if local store customers forget to bring a resusable bag and have to be provided with a paper bag.
"I love it," said Kenna Eaton, the Food Co-op's general manager. "It's a great way for everyone to give back to the community. If we stopped doing this, people would be very upset. Our customers are really attached to the program."