A grocery store in Canada is taking a unique new approach to discourage the use of plastic bags — but the plan already seems to be backfiring.
East West Market — an independent grocery store in Vancouver which specializes in organic and fair-trade products — thought it could shame customers into going green by printing embarrassing slogans on single-use bags.
Adorned with “Dr. Toews’ Wart Ointment Wholesale,” “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium” or “The Colon Care Co-Op,” the bags started showing up in the grocer's checkout aisles earlier this month.
“It’s hard to always remember a reusable bag. We redesigned our plastic bags to help you never forget again,” the business wrote in a Facebook post, along with a video that provides more background on the problem of plastic waste.
“Over 1,000,000 plastic bags are used every minute. Most of which are filled once then discarded," th video states. "So, we redesigned our bags to stop people from taking them. Helping customers remember a reusable bag and think twice about single-use plastic. Avoid the shame. Bring a reusable bag."
East West Market owner David Lee Kwen told The Guardian that the store's previously implemented 5-cent charge on plastic bags failed to discourage customers from using them, so he decided to try something that would send a stronger message.
“We wanted to give them something humorous, but also something that made them think at the same time,” he said. “It’s human nature not to want to be told what to do.”
Initially, Kwen had 1,000 of the bags printed up and began carrying them at the store on June 6. But while the phrases might be a deterrent for some, many customers actually seemed more encouraged to use plastic thanks to the funny designs.
“Nope this just makes me want to use your plastic bags even more, sorry not sorry, this is awesome,” one person wrote on Facebook.
“Total backfire, I would 100% not use reusable bags, just to see which awesome bag I get next,” someone else commented.
Kwen said some customers are going so far as to collect the bags because they love them so much. But even if that’s the case, he believes the plan is still working since it's getting people to talk about the issue.
“Even if you have the bag, you have to explain its origin to your friends. And then, we’ve started a conversation,” he said.
The stunt has also received some interesting feedback on Twitter, with some saying they admire the idea but think a stronger message would be to ban plastic altogether.
But business is booming and due to the overwhelming popularity of the bags, Kwen said he now plans to print the designs on reusable canvas bags to sell.
“It’s a double-edged sword. We wanted to address an issue, but we’ve also made something popular, so it’s turned out great,” he said.
Not everyone is on board with Kwen’s tactics, however, sharing their frustrations on Facebook. Others even pointed out the store’s tendency to wrap many of its products in plastic.
“What about the plastic bags you are using in the bin behind the till and what about the plastic wrapped around the food in the display cabinet opposite the till? What are you doing about that?” said one commenter.
Another posted: “How about being more direct and having the bags say things like: ‘I know I'm trashing the planet but I don't care,’ ‘I have more important things to do than remember a reusable bag,’ ‘My convenience is more important than trash free oceans,’ ‘My bag won't end up as whale, albatross or dolphin food...and if it does I won't believe anyway.’”
Just recently, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the country will ban all harmful single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates and stir sticks, by 2021. Currently, less than 10% of the country’s plastic gets recycled.
“Canadians know first-hand the impacts of plastic pollution, and are tired of seeing their beaches, parks, streets, and shorelines littered with plastic waste,” Trudeau said in a statement.
“We have a responsibility to work with our partners to reduce plastic pollution, protect the environment, and create jobs and grow our economy. We owe it to our kids to keep the environment clean and safe for generations to come.”