Business & Real Estate

Restrictions on plastic bags test Sacramentans’ memories

The Bel Air grocery store in the Pocket sells its own reusable bags for 10 cents. As of Jan. 1, the city of Sacramento bans grocery stores, large pharmacies and convenience stores from offering single-use plastic bags at cash registers.
The Bel Air grocery store in the Pocket sells its own reusable bags for 10 cents. As of Jan. 1, the city of Sacramento bans grocery stores, large pharmacies and convenience stores from offering single-use plastic bags at cash registers. aseng@sacbee.com

Shoppers in the city of Sacramento, many used to a lifetime of free grocery sacks at checkout, have been struggling to remember their own bags since the city’s ban on single-use plastic bags took effect this month.

Some curse the ban – or their faulty memories – and pay stores 10 cents apiece for reusable plastic or paper bags. Others are carrying groceries in their arms or asking clerks to put items back in their shopping carts without bags.

A segment of shoppers have resorted to memory aids, including notes stuck to dashboards and an iPhone app developed by a local programmer, or they have purchased snappy new bags that inspire use.

“I’ll definitely remember them,” Chyreece Cribb said, as she watched a clerk load up her colorful new totes at the Bel Air store in Sacramento’s Pocket neighborhood last week. The rectangular nylon satchels – bright green, orange, red and blue – lined up neatly in her cart. Before she bought the new bags, Cribb said, she forgot her older reusable bags “absolutely every time.”

Shopping at the same Bel Air, Zelo Ferguson said she remembers her bright-blue tote by keeping it on the front seat of her car. Ellen Wong said she keeps bags on a hook in the garage so she sees them as she heads out. Patrick Sullivan said he brings his bag from habit because he lived 10 years ago in a part of China where single-use plastic bags were already banned.

“I learned there,” he said.

Janis Wong said she just pays the 10 cents. The cost doesn’t bother her, and she finds it’s worth the convenience. “I can’t remember,” Wong said.

The state capital is one of the latest cities in California to join a growing movement. Nearly a third of state residents live in jurisdictions that forbid the use at checkout of single-use plastic bags, which are blamed for clogging landfills and recycling centers, polluting waterways and snagging on trees. A statewide ban signed by Gov. Jerry Brown is on hold pending a referendum, sponsored by the plastic bag industry, that voters will decide in November.

After the state ban was challenged, the Sacramento City Council passed an ordinance to try to limit the flow of plastic bags into the region’s waste stream. A report by city staff said retailers gave out 14 million of the sacks each month, or 168 million per year.

The ban, which went into effect Jan. 1, forbids grocery stores, large pharmacies and convenience stores from offering single-use plastic bags at cash registers. But it allows non-grocery retailers, restaurants and smaller pharmacies to continue to give the bags away. Retailers in surrounding Sacramento County aren’t affected by the new rules.

“I was excited because I remembered my bags at the Target on Fulton Avenue (in the Arden Arcade area). But it was in the county, and they said I didn’t need them,” Joanne Hufford, a city resident, said Thursday.

In the city of Sacramento, the new era in grocery bags is leaving some people disgruntled.

Ray Gibson, who lives in the Pocket, walked out of Bel Air carrying boxes of Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes along with a jug of milk and a sack of hamburger buns. The groceries were piled in his arms.

“I wasn’t going to pay for bags,” Gibson said. “I have a ton of bags at home. I just forgot.”

Katrina Vansoest was among several shoppers who had left their reusable bags in the car. She asked the clerk to wait while she ran out to grab hers from the trunk.

That common mistake prompted Ginny Smith, an Auburn computer engineer, to design an iPhone application. The app, which sells for 99 cents on the Apple App Store, is called Get Your Grocery Bags. It allows users to input their favorite grocery stores, and when they arrive at one, it sends a notification saying “Get your grocery bags!” Those who install the app on an Apple Watch feel a tapping sensation on their wrist.

Smith designed the program after forgetting her bags too many times. Although Auburn supermarkets still give away bags, Smith was trying to be environmentally conscious.

“It’s a result of being frustrated for years,” she said. “My husband and I had bags in the car, and they just sat in the car, and we’d get to the point where we were checking out and remember them. It’s infuriating.”

At the checkout line at Bel Air on Thursday, Katie Martinez said she has an even simpler system: Her son Jason, 11, reminds her. Jason said he remembers the bags because he doesn’t like to waste money.

“It seems like a terrible thing to pay 10 cents for a bag,” he said.

Hudson Sangree: 916-321-1191, @hudson_sangree

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