Marian Walton of Durant left New Pioneer Co-op in Coralville last week, canvas bag in hand filled with groceries.
Her reason for using a reusable bag "on and off for about a year" is simple: To help the environment and reduce waste.
"The stores are trying to get away from using plastic bags, and I thought it was a good idea for recycling," she said.
For Mary Lowder of Iowa City, her reason for using reusable bags for the better part of 10 years is even simpler: "I hate plastic.
"It's wasteful and bad for the environment," she said as she left New Pioneer with several canvas bags. "It's disgusting."
Walton and Lowder are just a couple of area residents who, along with local grocery stores, have joined the growing trend of using reusable bags instead of paper and plastic.
Local stores, such as Hy-Vee and New Pioneer, have seen significant decreases in the need to supply paper and plastic bags, and some stores offer incentives for customers to use reusable bags to carry out their groceries.
New Pioneer kicked off its initiative to encourage customers to use reusable bags on Earth Day 2009 by charging a nickel per paper or plastic bag. Since then, the co-op has seen a 60 percent reduction in bag consumption at its Coralville location, and a 55 percent reduction at the Iowa City store, marketing manager Jenifer Angerer said. Proceeds from the use of paper and plastic bags go to the Iowa City Crisis Center.
"The benefit to us is helping make a greater impact on the environment and also to be able to make a contribution (to the Crisis Center), even though that number is going down," Angerer said. "But when you look at the overall gain, it's a good thing."
Angerer said the co-op's push for the use of reusable bags is purely for environmental reasons -- and customers seem to be completely in support of it.
"We didn't do it as some profit mechanism," she said. "It's more for the environmental impact. Grocery stores go through hundreds of thousands of bags throughout the year and not enough are recycled. And we haven't had a negative impact on our customer base at all."
At Hy-Vee stores, displays in the aisles and storewide promotions for reusable bags, along with a 5 cent credit per reusable bag in some stores are just a few ways the company encourages its customers to reduce their paper and plastic bag consumption, said Ruth Comer, assistant vice president of media relations for Hy-Vee.
Several local stores also have recycling centers near the entrances for plastic bags, Comer said. These initiatives have been a part of Hy-Vee for more than 20 years, she said, before the trend became widespread.
"It's the same benefit that benefits us all: Use less waste, and less disposables are going into the landfill or being found on the roadsides," Comer said of Hy-Vee's incentive to reduce bag consumption. "The main savings are environmental."
Though Comer said Hy-Vee doesn't have any statistics on how many paper and plastic bags they've saved over the years, qualitatively, she said the company has seen a steady increase in customers' use of reusable bags.
"It really varies from store to store," she said.
Pat Hagen, representative for Fareway stores, could not be reached for comment.
Iowa City recycling coordinator Jennifer Jordan said she has yet to receive figures from a June solid waste character study at the Iowa City landfill that will measure a potential reduction in the tonnage of paper and plastic bags compared to 1998.
But Jordan said she also has qualitatively seen a reduction in paper and plastic waste in the area. The City Carton recycling facility on Benton Street now has a drop off for plastic bags -- "every time I'm there, it's stuffed full," she said.
Jordan said that between paper and plastic, there is no difference in terms of what's more environmentally friendly.
"If they ask (at grocery stores) if you want paper or plastic, it's safest to say, 'No, thank you, I have my own,'" she said.
Eric Creach, store manager for New Pioneer in Coralville, said customers have less of a problem using reusable bags for their groceries -- and more of a problem remembering to bring them.
"The biggest thing I see is somebody saying they forgot their bags in their car, and they run out and get them," he said. "A few years ago, they would have said, 'I'll just take the bag.' People really do understand that something as simple as reusing bags makes a huge difference."
Walton said she has a foolproof way to remember her bags.
"What I like about (my) bag is that it fits into my purse," she said. "The other ones, I do forget about them all the time."