Loaner Bags by Deposit

Originally published on

lightbulbEver felt guilty for forgetting your re-useable bag at home? Felt the accusing stare of the clerk or fellow shoppers?

With the memory of Christmas giving so fresh in our minds, redolent with blister packs and bubble wraps, perhaps plastic shopping bags are kind of insignificant relative to our total plastic footprint.

Which is why it should be utterly painless to stop using them altogether. Here’s how a deposit system could rescue the absent-minded and why we should use it.

There are plenty of heart-wrenching reasons why we should stop using disposable bags —islands of garbage or seabirds starving with stomachs packed full of plastic bottle caps but I am not going to go there. Being wasteful is stupid and disgraceful. So, since none of us like to be stupid in public, plastic bags are hereby banned.

Avoid the fish juice

I am going to assume you are all pumping your fists in the air shouting, “Yes! YES!”

Yes, we can. Go buy some biodegradable bags for your pet waste so puppy’s poop does not persevere. While you’re at it, grab some garbage bags that, since they were actually designed to hold garbage not groceries, will not leak fish juice all down the stairs when you take the garbage out. And, of course, recycle all you can and compost your food scraps so your garbage won’t smell even though it now takes three weeks to fill a bag.

But, sadly, we are all too human, and that means we will sometimes forget our reusable bags. The first time this happens I suggest you splurge and have your groceries delivered to your home by bicycle. But the second time you forget, wouldn’t it be great if you could just borrow a bag and take it home? In fact, what if you could just pay a small deposit, like you do on beer bottles, (which have a 97 per cent return rate) and take all the bags you want?

This doesn’t seem so hard; stores already accept bottles and cans. In addition to selling reusable bags for you to keep all for yourself, stores could have loaner bags by deposit.

It would be easiest if we could return our bags to any store that struck our fancy, so perhaps a Neighbourhood Business Association could organize the effort — a small step, really, for the Commercial Drive Business Society, which already makes and sells shopping bags (and umbrellas) made from the Drive’s old banners.

Imagine with me an entire neighbourhood re-using old banners to make bags that are loaned to the forgetful for a modest deposit. What could go wrong with that?

Keep it clean

Well, a study —funded by a very dispassionate plastics group—found reusable bags might have elevated levels of mould or bacteria. Once again, we can thank our lucky stars we managed to beat back fascism and put a man on the moon what with everybody staggering around retching from food poisoning contracted from those hillbilly reusable bags.

Nonetheless, I don’t expect past examples, like, say, the Aztec Empire (no plastic bags) or the Roman Empire (also no plastic bags) to sway people who like to recreationally waste oil, so let’s just make sure these deposit bags are washed between uses. Commercial laundry companies are providing clean linens all over this country, so this shouldn’t be a problem. A modest fee to cover the cost of laundering will also serve to keep the incentive on bringing your own bags and shouldn’t cost any more than the 25 cent fee more enlightened jurisdictions levy on plastic bags.

Of course if you do care about those fish or seabirds, we should stop using styrofoam as well. Like Portland, Seattle and 23 cities in California. I hate being less green than Americans.


  1. So I read this post this morning, after reading your bacon post which had been re-posted on a blog I read daily. Then I called the local city development non-profit b/c I had read they were gearing up for new banners in my town. I will be picking up a box of fifty used vinyl banners, hopefully the first of several boxes, tomorrow morning. Anyone you could recommend looking to who has made s similar scheme work for a plan to try to put into place.

    • Hi Alan—so exciting that you have a free resource of old banners!

      Just to clarify…commercial banners are often made of vinyl—they are the heavy signs with grommets advertizing cheap pizza or whatever. A German company called Frietag has made a good business manufacturing courieur-style bags out of this type of signage. The would also be excellent as bicycle panniers.

      Most city banners I have seen are made of polyester—lightweight, lets a little light through…this sort of material was used by the Commercial Drive Business Improvement Association, in Vancouver BC, for shopping bags and umbrellas.

      I haven’t seen a deposit shopping bag service yet, but I would look at Portland’s Go Box as a great deposit example.

      I am glad you read through my site—if I think of anything that may be useful I will send it along——and please post updates on your success!


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