Wal-Mart Celebrates Its Own Green Efforts with Free Reusable Shopping Bags

By Linsey Knerl on 12 April 2008 (Updated 18 August 2011) 19 comments
Photo: Alan Levine

Wal-Mart gets its fair share of negative press (and Wise Bread bloggers aren’t excluded.) However, a recent article in the new National Geographic’s Green Guide magazine really had me thinking about some of the ways Wal-Mart has led the way with environmentally-friendly initiatives. Regardless of how you feel about Wal-Mart’s status as a commercial superpower, you really have to take a look. (And while you’re at it, snag a free shopping bag!)

On April 19th, Wal-Mart stores everywhere will be celebrating Earth Month by partnering with Kellogg’s and giving away 1 million reusable shopping bags. The bags will usually cost a buck to buy, but starting 8AM next Saturday, you can have one free!

Wal-Mart gets its fair share of negative press (and Wise Bread bloggers aren’t excluded.) However, a recent article in the new National Geographic’s Green Guide magazine really had me thinking about some of the ways Wal-Mart has led the way with environmentally-friendly initiatives. Regardless of how you feel about Wal-Mart’s status as a commercial superpower, you really have to take a look. (And while you’re at it, snag a free shopping bag!)

On April 19th, Wal-Mart stores everywhere will be celebrating Earth Month by partnering with Kellogg’s and giving away 1 million reusable shopping bags. The bags will usually cost a buck to buy, but starting 8AM next Saturday, you can have one free!

I have been following Wal-Mart’s plastic waste war for quite some time. The recent article in Nat Geo’s The Green Guide detailed Wal-Mart’s journey from their plastic bag recycling receptacles to finished sustainable products and charitable donations to community organizations. (The full story can be seen in the debut issue.)

However, it is Wal-Mart itself who seems to have the most to say about their green efforts. Wal-Mart’s goals to generate zero-net waste is a lofty one, but they have taken amazing steps toward eliminating unnecessary waste, including:

  • Implementing the “Sandwich Bale” – a method of pressing loose plastic (shopping bags, etc.) between two stacks of cardboard before bundling for transport to recycling centers. Wal-Mart estimates that this effort alone has diverted more than 97 million pounds of plastic from landfills.
  • Developing the “Super Sandwich Bale” – this new practice from 2007 allowed Wal-Mart to include aluminum cans, plastic hangers, water bottles, office paper, paperback books, and other recyclables into ONE gigantic bale for transport. Wal-Mart estimates that this has resulted in the diversion of millions upon millions of pounds of aluminum, office paper, and plastic from landfills.

 

  • The Kids Recycling Challenge program currently rewards schoolchildren with $5 for every 60 gallon collection bag they bring in to Wal-Mart recycling centers, in addition to cash prizes for the most motivated classrooms!

 

Additional efforts include the recycling of cardboard boxes, paper recycling efforts at the corporate office, tire recycling at the auto repair centers, and a procedure for closed-loop recycling for suppliers (which allow some of the recycled materials to go back to manufacturers for the creation of new product at a lower cost.)

Granted, all of this green goodwill won’t give Wal-Mart a free ticket into the hearts of many Americans. In fact, USA Today mentioned in a Sep 25, 2006 article that Wal-Mart isn’t pushing sustainability solely out of the goodness of its heart. It has realized that it can make money by selling products that are environmentally friendly. It can make millions selling recycled trash and save hundreds of millions by cutting transportation costs.”

But is this so bad? Whether companies are motivated by money or morals, the outcome can be a great one for our planet.

I’m taking advantage of the free bags on April 19, and if you’re in the neighborhood, you might as well, too! Kids can also get free Wild Flower Seed Cards from Wal-Mart and Nickelodeon on this special day.

(More information on Wal-Mart’s initiatives can be found on their fact sheet at this link.)

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Guest's picture
magpie

Ooh, thanks for posting this - I've been meaning to get a reusable bag and now I can get one free!

Guest's picture
Zannie

Promoting recycling is great, but really, recycling is the last ditch effort to keep trash out of landfills and incinerators. First is reduce, then reuse (and kudos on the reusable bags, though not having seen them, I reserve judgment on just how reusable they are; a lot of "reusable" bags seem to be just heftier plastic bags that will still end up in the landfill relatively soon, and if they normally cost $1 I doubt they're all that great).

I have to wonder if providing cash incentives to bring in recyclable trash encourages people to consume more in the first place so they can generate more recyclable trash to bring in--especially with kids, and especially when there's a competitive angle to it.

I don't want to be too hard on them, because promoting the idea that recycling and reusing are important is a good thing, especially with kids, who will hopefully develop lifelong habits of doing both. I realize that promoting a reduction of consumption would be "bad for business," so in a way it's hard to blame them for not playing up that angle. It's just frustrating.

Guest's picture
Guest

Marsh Grocery stores did this a few months ago. Some also give you 5 cents off per bag if you reuse your regular plastic bags. This weeks Newsweek magazine has directions on how to hold and tape the cover into a pouch to fill with old bags then mail (for free) to Target to get free reusable bag which is made from the old bags people send.
Walmart appears to be behind the trend on this one.

Guest's picture
Les

One of the better reusable ones I've collected, in fact (though I've only had one of the 99 cent/$1 bags not be up to snuff and stand up to regular use), and it technically falls under "reuse" since it's made (partly, at least) from recycled PET.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Actually, Wal-Mart has been recycling the plastic bags since well before it started the recycling challenge in 2006, BEFORE most stores had a recycling program.  In fact, in many areas, Wal-mart is still the only place to take plastic bags for recycling, and they don't care which stores bags are being returned. Their methods for recycling has been emulated by many of the other stores that take recycled bags because it is such an efficient process.

From what I understand, the reusable shopping bag they are offering has had mixed reviews.  (Some have complained of them not being quite rigid enough.)  It is cloth, but made from 85% recycled content and holds twice as much as the average plastic bag.  Walmart will be taking the bags back at the end of their useful life for recycling of the bags. And yes, many other stores offer recycled and resuable bags.. here is Targets .  It sells for $1.49 and 99 cents for two sizes.  Most major whole foods stores have their own version, as well, so I'm not saying that Walmart is a leader in this one aspect.  Just letting you know that the bags will be free for a special day.

As far as saying that the Plastic Bag challenge will actually encourage plastic bag use?  That's like saying that any recycling program encourages waste:  whether it be can programs, bottle programs, etc... I don't think we can assume that just because people don't like Wal-Mart.

Thanks for the comments!

Guest's picture
Stacey07

I've been using these bags for a few months now, and they've held up well. The secret to getting past their non-stiffness is to prop the bags up in the plastic bag holders. :) Wal-Mart's extra long handles work well for this.

I'm glad to hear that Wal-Mart will be giving away bags. The "cost" of reusable bags is a turnoff in our area, where most people have to make every dollar count. (But who doesn't?) Hopefully we'll get a few more reusable bag fans in the town as a result of this giveaway!

Guest's picture
Les

They're no floppier than most of the inexpensive bags. ;) The one exception I've seen (I know there are others like this out there, but usually more) a local grocery chain sell (Lowe's Food) that are made out of the same material as outdoor banners, in the size of a standard paper grocery bag, with web handles. I don't *think* they're recycled, unless their from the store's own promotional materials.

Guest's picture
wgft

My supermarket gives me 5 cents back when I use my own bag. The bag cost me 50 cents. So it's an okay deal. If they really want to see reusable bags gain popularity, they could raise the cost of a plastic bag to 25 cents, and drop the cost of the reusable one to 25 cents. Everyone would use reusable bags.

Guest's picture
Guest

Ok. I have been wanting to get out some of my vast collection of tote bags, and start toting them to the grocery store and Walmart, but I just never do.
Why?

Cause I feel weird!!!

First of all, I've NEVER seen ANYONE use a cloth bag before. NEVER. Not at ANY stores, ever.

I don't mean I feel weird, like self conscious or worrying about what people think of me. I could generally care less.
I mean, that when you get to the register, you'd have to quick wrestle the bags out of your cart, and hand them to the clerk.
Now, does that make their job harder? Do YOU bag your own stuff in that case, or do THEY put each bag up on the bag handle holders, and fill them?

I just don't know. It's strange, I know.
But until I get the urge to bring my own bags, I HAVE been taking my extra plastic bags to the bag recycling receptacles! And I use plenty over again, too.
(why pay for lunch bags, when you got Walmart bags?)

Actually, if plastic shopping bags become a thing of the past, I'll sure miss them! I use them probably daily, for all sorts of things, like picking up dog poop in the yard and during walks, putting my Husband's lunch in them every day, for trash in the car, to line my small trash cans in the house, (why pay for those tiny ones?) and to transport all sorts of stuff for me and the kids.

One thing I won't miss, though, is that one, lone, stupid plastic Walmart bag that seems to make it into the tree behind the alley on our block, EVERY season!! There's always a bag stuck in the top of the tree, blowing in the wind for months!

Linsey Knerl's picture

I have to admit, I agree with the weirdness of using reusable bags... that's why I was so excited to hear that a Walmart in my area was giving out the bags for free.  We haven't been offered many of the reusable bag options that so many other stores (Target, etc.) have supposedly been offering in other areas.  So this will kind of be a first for us.

The only concern I can see is the potential for shoplifting confusion.  We already have big signs at many of our stores asking us to leave totebags and backpacks outside of the store.  It must be due to the level of shoplifting incidents, I'm not sure.  Plus, if you bring anything in Walmart plastic sack into the store, they check it and put a little smiley face sticker on it to show that you are bringing it in legally.  I wonder if they will need to do that with all the little recycled bags?

As far as the logistics of whether you empty your own bag for the cashier, I suppose it would be the same as when you use a little handled basket.  I usually just set my basket down for them to empty.  They are much quicker than I am, and with 4 kids usually along for the ride, I just seem to get in the way!

Happy responsible shopping, everyone!

Guest's picture
Amy K

I still haven't figured out the etiquette of reusable bags. I usually turn beet red and stammer something while I shove the bag at the cashier. Some totally understand. Some roll their eyes, so I bag the items myself.

I've found a grocery store nearby that offers the bring-your-bag credit (5 cents each) and I often see others bringing bags, so I feel less... abnormal there. At another store, at least one cashier knows that I bring my own bags, and last week prompted me when I didn't have it out by the time she finished ringing me up. I have one of the tiny ones that I can tuck in my purse.

So far, repetition has made me less timid, I'm less flustered each time, and I've learned to be as polite and firm as I can. It helps the cashiers in the express lane if I bag, since there are so many styles of reusable bags, it takes them a moment to figure them out.

At this point, I have to remember that even though this is my 30th time at this store with a cloth bag, it may be the cashier's first time, so I try to be clear about what I want, and why.

Guest's picture
Teri

I have some bags that I bought at Publix. I keep looking for more of them, but they are always out of them. I usually still have to use the plastic ones which I re-use for everything. I think it's a good idea. For those of us who use other (not plastic) bags, maybe the trend will kick in and everyone else will "get it" It's something everyone can do.

Guest's picture
Joyce

come on, we're not in middle school anymore, and we don't need to be embarassed to be different. I have found the stores clerks in my area more than happy to accomadate my cloth tote bags I scrounged up from my home. Haven't used plastic ones for months.

Guest's picture
Dawn

I work at a grocery store that sells reusable bags. It's not uncommon to see them, or bags from other stores, for that matter. (I don't like Wal-Mart's bags. They're floppy and there's no loop on the inside to hook onto the bag carousel and help hold it up.)

"I don't mean I feel weird, like self conscious or worrying about what people think of me. I could generally care less.
I mean, that when you get to the register, you'd have to quick wrestle the bags out of your cart, and hand them to the clerk.
Now, does that make their job harder? Do YOU bag your own stuff in that case, or do THEY put each bag up on the bag handle holders, and fill them?"

Don't worry about what other people think. Most people honestly don't care what sort of bags the next person in line is using.

If you have the bags on top of your groceries, or pull them out while you're waiting in line, you'll have them on hand. If there is no line, there's no rush to take them out. Just tell the cashier to give you a second to pull them out; there's no rush.

It really doesn't make our job harder. It's no worse, time-wise, than requesting paper bags. It does take a few seconds to unfold them and prop them up, but no more than it takes to pull apart a plastic bag that won't open. Generally, the cashier still bags the groceries in cloth bags.

Plastic bags (or the ones we use, at least) are a PITA, at least to me-- they stick together, rip easily if you so much as look at them funny, and are often hard to work with. I'd be quite content with switching entirely to reusable bags.

Guest's picture
Guest

Strange, how you can rip a plastic bag just by opening it, yet it holds a gallon of milk...sometimes two!!
LOL!

Guest's picture
Guest

I like the green Walmart bag I got for free. :) But, I was unhappy that they wouldn't give me a couple to fit my cartload of groceries in. Instead I had the green bag and 8 or 9 plastic bags. Grr. But, the bag is great to take in to Aldi. Aside from the milk, I can fit all my groceries in it...no more boxes! :)

Guest's picture
Guest

It would seem so easy to just use reusable cloth bags and save our earth. It's also naive. Much more energy is used to produce and transport reusable cloth bags. What about growing the cotton or hemp? Fertilizer, insecticide, and cheap labor? How about the gas, energy and time wasted making multiple trips to the supermarket with a small reusable bag to buy a family size load of groceries that I can get in one trip carrying all my plastic bags with a Baggy Buddy carry handle.
Every large supermarket has a recycle container at the door. If we all just recycle our plastic bags, we can have our convenience and a greener planet.

Guest's picture
Guest

wait so how many casn you get? i need alot for a project im doing and i was wondering if you could help.

Guest's picture
A mom

I have been using the reusable bags for months now and I love them. Meijers has the best bags. I want one of the walmart green ones that they was giving away... I would love to buy one from someone. Please email me.

sctc04@aol.com