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Where’s Your Bag? City Kicks Off Reuse Campaign

With the help of 11 local grocery stores, the Santa Barbara program will encourage shoppers to choose reusable bags over plastic or paper

The city of Santa Barbara Environmental Services Department has just one question for you: Where’s your bag?

Expect to see that question posed often, starting in the next few weeks. Signs heralding the slogan will be posted throughout grocery store parking lots and in store windows in an effort to encourage shoppers to choose reusable bags instead of paper or plastic.

On Friday, the campaign’s kickoff event at De la Guerra Plaza was designed as an educational forum, and city workers and volunteers handed out reusable totes to passers-by.

The city has been working on the campaign for several months, in conjunction with the California Grocers Association, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, Choose to Reuse and Tri-County Produce.

It’s an educational outreach campaign about the negative impact of plastic — and paper — bags, intended as a gentler approach to reuse rather than an outright ban on plastic or a fee, as other municipalities have done.

Lorraine Cruz Carpenter, an environmental specialist with the city, said 11 grocery stores are participating in the campaign, including smaller, local stores such as Tri-County Produce, 335 S. Milpas St.

“At this point, we find it important to kick off something educational,” she said. “I think most people in this city want to do it, they just don’t understand what the impacts are. We don’t want to promote anything regulatory at this point. We want to reach out first and ask them to voluntarily do these things.”

Plastic, because of its light weight, often blows around and ends up in city streets, or meanders down drains to eventually end up in the ocean, she said.

Martha Shute picks up her free bag at Friday's event at De la Guerra Plaza.
Martha Shute picks up her free bag at Friday’s event at De la Guerra Plaza (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Dave Heylen, a representative of the California Grocers Association, which represents 80 percent of the state’s grocers, attended Friday’s event. He said the group is supportive of the campaign.

“Reusable bags are just one of those win-win situations,” he said.

The real challenge, he said, is changing consumer behavior.

Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Helene Schneider agreed.

“It would be great if nobody used plastic bags, but you’ve got to make it easy,” she said. “As opposed to forcing it down people’s throats, this is a way that people can proactively do something they feel good about.”

Sometimes people need a reminder, though, Schneider said, and having signs near the stores should be helpful.

She said that working with grocers to make sure they train cashiers and baggers to ask customers whether they brought their reusable bags also will be key.

“Santa Barbara is the perfect community to make this work,” Schneider said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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