Letters to the editor, February 2005

This article was originally published in February 2005

Grocery bags

Thank you for the informative article on the pros and cons of paper versus plastic bags (“Paper, plastic or cloth — What kind of bag do you use?” Sound Consumer, January 2005). As I suspected, neither is a very good option and the author of the article encourages all of us to bring reusable cloth bags. She admits that it’s easy to forget your bags and asks, what will it take for more shoppers to remember?

I have found a simple solution — I keep them in my car! I have five cloth bags and stick them under the seat of my car. The bags are still visible which helps me to remember, so I rarely forget them when I head into the store. It also works great for spontaneous PCC stops because I always have my bags with me. It’s simple, easy and really makes a difference!
— Carolyn Harvey, Bellevue

I read the article (on grocery bags) with some interest as I use none of the above. I use a collapsible rolling cart, which is about the size of a briefcase collapsed and a fair size when open. It was about $20 at Office Depot in the filing section.

While reading the article, I kept waiting for the obvious solution to our bag problem to be proposed: charge for bags. I recently lived in Denmark and in grocery stores there, bags were another item for purchase. They (cost) about 3 or 4 DKK, about 50-70 cents. They were of a higher quality than U.S./Spanish/French/Swiss/German grocery bags — thicker plastic, much sturdier, expanding bottom.

A policy by PCC theoretically would reduce the number of bags used and eliminate an operating cost. It also would place financial impetus on shoppers to bring bags instead of buying them. It effectively makes the default policy one of reuse, instead of the current policy of suggesting reuse through a reward-based refund. I do find it somewhat unsettling that a store frequented by environmentally conscious types has to purchase more than two and a half million (!) bags per year.
— Adam Morley

Another nugget of info to add to the bag debate; when I was a student in France, I learned that the stores there charge about 10 cents for each bag you use. So everyone brings his or her own cloth bags there, except when they make unexpected stops. It’s much more motivating to avoid paying for something than to get a rebate later.

Also, I’m too embarrassed to bring cloth bags in to any store except PCC. Will the cashier be annoyed? Will people look at me strange? Years ago, a friend brought in cloth bags and the bagger insisted on double-bagging the cloth bags with paper bags! Our culture has a way to go before everyone will be comfortable with cloth bags. I envision a day when people will look at you strange if you DON’T bring in your cloth bags and hope it won’t take a serious crisis to make it happen.
— Leigh Bangs

When is PCC going to make the unpopular decision that will, 1) save members money. 2) benefit the environment, and 3) reward customers who bring their own bags by charging for every bag given out at the stores? I forget my bags sometimes, too, but I bet I won’t do it as often when I see a five-cent fee added to my grocery bill for each bag I forget.
— Celia Bowker, Seattle

Thank you for your article on grocery bags. I have a PCC canvas bag that I often use, but I also often request a paper bag since I reuse paper bags for garbage bags. My assumption is that a paper bag full of non-recyclable waste is better than a plastic bag full of the same in a landfill. I realize there are garbage bags made of recycled materials, but they always seem to be plastic, even if they are recycled.

Given that my household is going to continue to produce some garbage in spite of our best efforts, what is the best choice here for disposing of that garbage? Reused paper grocery bags or recycled plastic garbage bags?
— Lisa Hake

In “Paper, plastic or cloth,” you wonder how to avoid the problems of paper and plastic bags for groceries. Can the problems be addressed by continuing to give away bags at a rate of $150,000 per year? Continuing to employ baggers who think the more bags they use, the more they are doing their job? Continuing to make re-using bags a gimmick to fund un-related programs?

You write that PCC shoppers are “ardent environmentally conscious shoppers.” Oh, sure, they are ardently opposed to Weyerhauser selling what they are buying, but they can’t unload their groceries and put the empty bags back in the trunk so they will be available next time.

Why not sell paper and plastic and cloth bags to the people who want them and leave the people bringing their own bags alone? That would be simple, direct and pro-choice. The article is no different than articles that were written 10 years ago. It would be better to start than to continue the analysis.
— Geof Grogan, Fall City

Regarding the paper, plastic or cloth dilemma, I would like to weigh-in with an additional suggestion. It involves using all three types of bags, but in a limited way. I put a paper sack inside a plastic sack. The paper one gives the plastic a convenient shape and the plastic gives the paper durability. I keep several of these folded inside a PCC cloth bag that also may contain smaller, reusable plastic and paper sacks for produce items. The result is an easy-to-grab soft bag of reused sacks that last for years. Environmentally sound? You bet, and an easy habit to acquire. We can do it!
— Shirley Wetzstein, West Seattle

Paul Schimdt, PCC’s director of merchandising, replies: Thank you all for being part of the solution. On charging for bags, PCC has made no decision but is continuing to discuss this option. In San Francisco and on Seattle’s city council, there is some discussion on whether to charge for bags. FYI, following our article, Weyerhaeuser called to say it had just met with the Rainforest Action Network to work together on finding common ground in forestry practices.

Local food and food security

I enjoyed reading about how seasonal foods are good for us, such as cranberries. Here’s an article that I saw about the trade deficit turning to hurt domestic farmers: www.pjstar.com/stories/120704/ALA_B4UEM1VT.027.shtml
— Charla Williams

Squash, gift ideas, Newsbites

Thank you for Sound Consumer. I read it every month with scissors at hand and my shopping list by my side. Thanks, Goldie, I finally know what to do with squash. I appreciate the gift ideas and interesting “trivia.” The “Food and farming in Iraq (Newsbite)” was interesting, good to know, very troubling. Thanks for it all.
— Dysa Kafoury, Seward Park shopper

Gluten-free food

A reply to Linda Hughes (letter last issue) re: food allergies and chocolate cake. I just received a present of chocolate truffle brownie mix from the gluten-free pantry (www.glutenfree.com). There’s no dairy or eggs in the mix. Also received Bette’s gourmet flour blend mix with no dairy or eggs. I use egg replacer, rice or soy or almond milk as substitutes. Maybe this will be helpful to her.
— Merry O’Brien

1% for Education and Scrip

I was very disappointed to read that you’re discontinuing the 1% for Education program. It’s been such a hassle-free way to create maximum benefit from my PCC purchases. I like being able to redirect some of my food dollars towards my favorite “fundraising partners.” And importantly, being directly involved in this giving allows me to be a more engaged co-op member.
— Judy Koven

Diana Crane, PCC’s community relations and public relations manager replies: The 1% for Education program was discontinued to allow for a more focused effort on PCC’s Scrip program. Scrip certificates are sold at 95 percent of face value to fundraising partners, who then sell them to supporters at full value, keeping the 5 percent difference. Through this program, PCC donated more than $50,000 to community groups in 2004. Please consider contacting the group(s) you supported through the 1% for Education program to ask if you can help them even more by purchasing PCC scrip certificates.

Bulk soaps and lotions

I was distressed to discover that the View Ridge PCC no longer carries any bulk soaps. I was a regular buyer of the range of bulk soaps offered.

A sign stated the change was made to make room for expansion in other areas (the deli was specifically mentioned) and to eliminate mess from the bulk soaps. Apparently, fewer customers were buying the bulk soaps and customers wanted an expanded deli area.

PCC has distinguished itself from other stores in educating customers about practices that protect farmland and support local businesses. I want to see PCC distinguish itself in the same way in encouraging practices that reduce waste. What about figuring out ways to encourage the use of bulk soaps? How about looking at a system to reduce the mess of bulk soaps? The bulk oils are also messy, but the View Ridge PCC has a good system to deal with them. On the other hand, the deli products create a lot of packaging waste. An expanded deli will mean significantly more of that waste. Customers should be encouraged to bring their own containers to the deli.

I shop at PCC because it best represents my values. Bulk products are an important demonstration of a commitment to reduce waste. I hope to see bulk soaps back in the View Ridge PCC soon.
— A disappointed regular customer and member, Ann Stevens

Stephanie Steiner, PCC’s grocery merchandiser, replies: As your letter notes, fewer and fewer customers were choosing to buy these products in bulk. I’m disappointed, too, that more shoppers didn’t support these bulk products. I’m always disappointed when business reasons dictate that I discontinue my own favorite items. Unfortunately, after many years of trying to make bulk soap purchases easier, PCC just can’t afford to support an option that shoppers aren’t supporting.

Customer service and grass-fed beef

I’m an executive chef for Bon Appetit Management Company. I wanted to let you know that I received excellent customer service from your staff at the Fremont location.

Bill Clark was especially great by providing me with the exact cuts of meats that I needed for the show (on KONG 6 TV) in a timely manner. I love to shop at PCC and I’m even happier to experience all your great food and friendly employees. Thanks again!

During the brief cooking demo on grass-fed beef, I mentioned a few times that you could find this product from some local PCC markets.
— Darin Leonardson, Executive Chef, Bon Appetit/Amgen

Also in this issue

Your co-op, February 2005

Talk to the Board, Next board meeting, Members share their thoughts on PCC benefits