Lunenburg merchants launch cloth bag swap

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Heather Towndrow, whose family owns the BMR Hardware store in Lunenburg, says the bag swap pilot project is aimed at getting the supply of reusable bags many of us have stowed away at home back into circulation.</p>

With environmental concerns playing an increasingly dominant role in peoples' minds, merchants in Lunenburg have launched a pilot program to help customers ease into a future without plastic bags.

Three stores - BMR Hardware, Loonies & Toonies Dollar Store, and Kinley Drug Co. Ltd.-PharmaChoice - are participating in a reusable bag swap.

Stemming from an idea of BMR's owner, Bill Towndrow, and launched July 2, the program invites people to donate their reusable bags, and then borrow one or more from the store's collection on an as-needed basis.

"What we find, when you take home those nice, reusable, environmentally-friendly bags, is you often forget to bring them back in," explains daughter and manager trainee Heather Towndrow. "I try to keep them in the car, but then I use them and they're in the house again."

According to Towndrow, she has about 50 bags in her closet at home - and she says she only needs five at any one time.

"So we thought, well, what if, instead of having to buy these all the time you could bring in the ones that you already had and just donate them.? And then you could borrow bags."

That way people don't have to constantly buy new reusable bags or resort to using stores' disposable plastic bags. Towndrow hopes that way people might always get used to carrying recyclable bags with them.

She concedes situations could arise where some people just continue to use other people's bags and not contribute any to the system themselves. But she says it's equally wasteful having bags pile up in people's homes.

"I have enough bags for 10 years. Let's get them into circulation now. And stop creating a new problem in our efforts to solve an old one."

Currently, BMR still provides plastic bags for those customers who want them. "We're not trying to force anyone into this. I would understand too if some people are uncomfortable with using someone else's bag," suggests Towndrow.

However, she notes that at some point plastic bags will be banned by legislation. "It's always hard when something's flat out banned. It's nice to have a transition time. Time to get used to it."

The plan is for the store to have a system of donated and new recyclable bags and paper bags in place for when plastic bags are banned.

The pilot program members are open to other stores joining into the scheme as well. However Towndrow says they're not actively pursuing them at this time. "We want to have a little bit of time with a pilot to see if it works...If it doesn't work, it doesn't. At least we tried," she says.

According to Towndrow the supply of bags went within the first two days.

The situation was similar at Kinley, where Patricia Nodding, the front end supervisor, reported a "good response" to the program from the beginning.

She says the majority of their customers who didn't bring in their own recyclable bags were happy to take the used bags when offered them. She estimates the store started off with about 30 bags and had 10 left by the third day.

According to Nodding, the campaign also is helping to raise awareness about reusable bags. "This makes people more aware to bring their own bags too," she said.

Bianca Poole, an employee at Loonies & Toonies, says staff kicked off the program at 9 a.m. July 2nd with about 20 bags they brought from home. "And they were gone at 5 o'clock when we left. People are really liking it," she said.

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