Kootenay Co-op Introduces Backyard Compostable Bags

Choosing which bags to offer shoppers is a complex decision and we don’t always know what to do.  Some members would like to see all plastic removed from our shelves, and others want bags and twist ties always available at arm’s reach. Pre-packing items helps some products sell faster, and lets shoppers know exactly how much the weighed item will cost before they get to the tills.  Our staff are always on the hunt for better options to balance our financial sustainability with environmental sustainability.

An example of the mark for an industrially compostable item.

There are many “compostable” bags, cups, and packages on the market, and even given away in town. This approach is not as simple as it seems; these are compostable only in industrial facilities like those in Vancouver or Toronto, not in our backyards. Unless you’re saving up your iced coffee cups and doggie bags to bring on your next vacation, the best place to put these is in the garbage — they are not recyclable. Many of these plant-based plastics are made with #2 corn, which is a monocultured GMO product that requires fossil fuels for its fertilizers, in addition to the energy intensive process to turn a field of corn into a clear plastic.  We don’t want to support this industry, and we don’t want farmers to switch from growing food to growing corn for bags and cups.  Because there hasn’t been a good backyard compostable option available, until now we’ve chosen to go with the lightest weight recyclable plastic bags that are suitable for the product and encourage shoppers to reuse their bags as much as they can.

Look out for this paper sticker!

A new option

Starting this month we’ll be introducing backyard compostable cellophane for our small “re-pack” items like candies, nuts, trail mixes and seeds. When you’re done snacking, toss the bag into your backyard compost and they’ll break down with the rest of your vegetables. Because they are identical to our old poly bags, you can identify these items with this paper sticker.

“These are by far the most cutting-edge eco-friendly bags in the Kootenays,” says Scott Chernenko from Inland Allcare. “These new bags are a true cellophane made from wood pulp.” Plant-based cellophane is not a new idea–it was the predominant film before the 1960’s when cellophane-style polypropylene was introduced and quickly adopted across the industry for its low cost to manufacture, durability and superior barrier. With more interest in green alternatives, the original cellophane technology is making a comeback and we are very pleased to offer it in our store.

New compostable bags

In the spring we had a stinky experiment going on in our warehouse. We took one of these cellophane bags and filled it with fresh vegetable scraps and sealed it into a bucket to keep our workspace separated from the smell!  After two weeks the bag was soft, easy to poke a hole through, stinky, and mold was growing through the film — all signs that the bag will degrade in backyard piles.  These bags are more porous than the plastic so they allow more airflow. This is a benefit for our kitchen items and is a drawback for our dry goods.  Using these bags will keep us on our toes to make sure only the freshest product is on the shelves!

We’d like to have these bags in all departments, but right now it’s cost prohibitive as they cost 10 – 50 times what our existing bags cost, depending on the size. We give away hundreds of thousands of bags each year, so this price change is a challenge for our already tight margins.  We’ve decided to start small with the small re-packs, and hopefully the price on these bags will come down as they become a more popular item to manufacture.

Find our bag share by the tills!

Reduce and reuse

Reducing bag use is still the best option for cost savings and environmental sustainability and we encourage shoppers to bring in containers and to reuse the bags they already have. Most of these items in small re-packs are still available in bulk.

“Bulk is participatory! Please bring containers and fill them up,” says Ross Campbell, Bulk Coordinator

Charging for each bag, whether paper or plastic or biodegradable, is an option to be able to offer bags to those that need them, while using the financial incentive to encourage members to bring in their own bags. Members are already entered into a monthly gift card draw everytime we shop with our own containers and bags, and we think we could do more to encourage low-impact shopping. We’re running a bag survey http://kootenay.coop/blog/kootenay-coop-news/bag-survey/ to see how our membership feels about charging for bags, and we’re looking for comments from all sides of the spectrum.

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