Sunday, August 05, 2007

Reusable bags make a comeback

By TJ Burgonio - Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines -- If you haven't noticed it yet, reusable bags are slowly making a big comeback not only in supermarkets, but also in bookstores and small shops, and soon, in restaurants.

The "bound Bookshop," put up by journalists on Scout Castor Street near the busy Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City, has been offering cloth bags at P125 apiece to customers who refuse plastic bags.

"Ten out of our 15 customers refuse plastic bags. They'd rather carry the books in their bags. For those who don't have bags, we offer the cloth bags. It's much, much better than plastic bags,'' staff member Rosiedin `"Diding'' Lanao says.

She is thrilled when she sees her customers lugging the same cloth bag, which they call Hepburn bag because it bears the actress' (Audrey) portrait, when they walk into the cramped bookshop.

The bookshop, owned by journalists Carlos Conde, Inday Espina-Varona, May Rodriguez, Rowena Paraan, and Bernadette Sembrano, offers books on literature, journalism, politics, history, art, music, health, and erotica, among others.

If she had her way, Lanao, 31, who couldn't forget the day floodwaters and plastics swept into the bookshop during a heavy downpour years ago, would rather phase out plastic bags, and go cloth bags all the way. Cloth bags, however, are more costly to produce.

"There's just too many plastics around. They clog the canals, and waterways,'' she says.

It's a sign of the growing consciousness among entrepreneurs on the need to go green and contribute less to the garbage problem in the metropolis, and in a larger context, to the warming of the climate.

"Compared with two or three years ago, the public awareness [on the use of reusable bags] is more heightened now,'' says Gigie Cruz, a member of EcoWaste Coalition.

Cruz herself noticed a sea-change in the attitude of supermarket staff toward reusable bags.

Before, she had to argue with the sales staff of the SM Mall of Asia supermarket in Pasay City before she could stuff the grocery items in a large canvas bag she brought from home. Now, she breezes through the cashier counters, without questions asked.

There have been moves in the past to promote the use of reusable of bags at supermarkets and groceries, but these eventually sputtered, partly because of the public's lack of enthusiasm.

Now environmental groups, including EcoWaste, are reviving the "Balik-Bayong Campaign,'' a move to encourage people to go back to the tradition of bringing their own bags when they go to market and the supermarket.

Last month, the group and its partners invited Ms Earth beauty contestants to go marketing at the wet Nepa-Q Mart on Edsa in Quezon City with their bayong and cloth bags.

Bayong is a native bag made of buri palm leaves.

"We believe that single-use disposal plastic bags are big contributors to our garbage problem,'' Cruz says.

Major rivers and tributaries in Metro Manila like the Pasig, Marikina, and Tullahan Rivers have been clogged with mixed waste, mostly plastics, according to the EcoWaste Coalition.

In the discard survey facilitated by EcoWaste Coaliton and Greenpeace in Manila Bay in 2006, 76 percent of the garbage collected consisted of plastics. Of these plastics, 51 percent was single-use disposable plastic bags.

Over the past several months, big-name supermarkets have been aggressively promoting the use of reusable bags to its customers.

SM supermarkets, for instance, came out with their own green bags, and gave these away to customers on the condition that they buy P500 worth of products of Unilever.

Rustan's supermarket followed suit, but this time, it sold reusable bags to the customers, according to EcoWaste.

The EcoWaste and other green groups met with the Philippine Retailers Association two years ago, and broached the idea that they go green and give away these green bags to their customers, according to Cruz.

But the businessmen were worried about added costs, more shoplifting incidents, and "minus points'' for their advertisement, she adds.

"That's why we were surprised by the recent initiative,'' Cruz says in an interview at the EcoWaste office, referring to the SM launch of its green bag, made of polypropylene. “We thought they didn't like the idea.”

While SM is aggressively promoting its green bag in the media, the orientation of some its staff toward reusable bags still needs improvement.

Beau Baconguis of Greenpeace Southeast Asia was accosted by sales staff of the SM North supermarket when she brought out her own cloth bag after doing her grocery round. After she complained, the management assured they would correct it.

"Maybe some of the companies are trying to do it because it's fashionable. We're hoping that's not the case. We're more optimistic that they're starting to see the problem,'' Cruz says.

"If they're doing it because it's the trend, it's still positive for us. We just want to encourage them to improve their system out of concern for the environment,'' she adds.

Binalot, a chain of restaurants that serves native food wrapped in banana leaves, is also keen on discarding plastic bags in favor of environment-friendly material, like "bayong,'' for its bulk deliveries.

"We're trying to brainstorm on how they can minimize use of plastic. They're willing to try out `bayong for food' instead of using plastic bags,'' Cruz says, recalling their meeting with the restaurant owners.

After reading about EcoWaste's campaign in the papers, Binalot's owner sought out a meeting with the group last week to help him find an alternative way of packing food deliveries.

The group plans next to write some companies, including National Bookstore, to shift to environment-friendly packaging, and lobby lawmakers in the House of Representatives to pass a pending bill regulating the use of plastics.

It's a long way to go, but it's a good start.

No comments: