B.Y.O.B. . . . Bag


Several U.S. firms are hoping that increased environmental awareness will prompt American shoppers to take a hint from their European counterparts and switch to cloth or vinyl reusable grocery bags.

The sacks are being marketed by as many as 10 different firms in a rainbow of colors, fabrics, and can be emblazoned with any corporate logo.

The average consumer uses and disposes of about 500 paper or plastic grocery bags annually, according to industry estimates. And as many as 34 billion such bags are distributed by supermarkets each year.

Manufacturers of the cloth bags hope to persuade the public that, although the totes are costly, the money spent on them can be considered an investment in the environment. Proponents claim that the cloth sacks hold two to three times as much as paper or plastic grocery bags.


Several such products were on display at a recent food industry gathering.

Certainly, the most interesting product name comes from Low Technologies Inc., which markets the Neither Bag, which is made from 100% cotton and has two cloth handles. The St. Petersburg, Fla.-based firm’s slogan: “Paper of plastic? Just say . . . Neither!”

Priority Earth Co., of Studio City, also offers a reuseable canvas bag under the name of “Groce Tote.” Two Southern California supermarket chains, Gelson’s and Mrs. Gooch’s, now have displays asking shoppers, “Paper, plastic or Groce Tote?”

One of the more ambitious sales efforts is being launched by Create-A-Bag of Chicago. The company is marketing its duck canvas bags under the trademark “Re-Use. Part of the Solution” logo. The sacks are offered in seven colors and can carry a logo.

Coverall of Worcester, Mass., takes a different tack in bag texture. The firm claims its Eco-Bag, made from vinyl, is the “bag of the Nineties that will last.” One attractive aspect of Coverall’s sales literature--for grocers at least--is a passage that claims supermarket firms can save “millions of dollars in bag costs” by selling Eco-Bag alongside paper and plastic.

Despite their European cachet, reusual totes have raised some doubts in the supermarket industry. One retail executive said that the cloth bags may harbor dangerous bacteria from one shopping trip to another. Jeanne Wirka, of Environmental Action Foundation in Washington, took exception to such complaints.

“I’m tired of the supermarket industry raising the specter of contamination to maintain the status quo,” she said, at the same time doubting that the cloth carriers will catch consumers’ imagination.

“Cloth bags are just not the way Americans bag groceries. And they’re not widely available,” she said.

The proliferation of reuseable bags demonstrates that, among other things, there are few limits to manufacturers’ attempt to get on the environmentalist bandwagon.

Cedar Fresh Products, of Norristown, Pa., announced last week that it was now selling the “world’s first environmentally safe moth ball” made from 100% natural, aromatic cedar wood and not “common moth chemicals.”