No paper, no plastic: Be ready as commissaries adopt reusable bags

by Vern Evans

Attention, commissary shoppers: Here’s what you need to know about the possible costs you may have to front as your local store eliminates plastic and paper bags.

Efforts to ditch single-use bags are gradually taking effect at U.S.-run grocery stores at military bases around the world, so be prepared with reusable bags. Guam’s commissaries got rid of plastic and paper bags as of March 15, and Hawaii’s commissaries will follow starting April 30. California and Washington will eliminate the bags on June 30.

As for the remaining commissaries around the world, the Defense Commissary Agency plans to continue rolling out reusable bag policies “based on each location’s needs and legislative environment” until each store no longer carries single-use bags, officials said in a release.

Once a store makes the shift, it won’t offer plastic or paper bags at all — not even for purchase, said Tressa Smith, a spokeswoman for the Defense Commissary Agency.

But customers who don’t bring their own reusable bags can buy one. Prices start at 35 cents, regardless of location, with more expensive options available. Commissaries have already sold reusable bags for a number of years.

One retired officer in Washington state told Military Times that he needed 44 free single-use bags for his groceries on a recent commissary run. Purchasing 44 reusable bags that one time would add $15.40 to his grocery bill.

In comparison, he said, his local Seattle-area Safeway charges 8 cents for a single-use bag — totaling about $3.50 each time he needed a 44-bag haul.

While it’s true that single-use bags may be cheaper, consumers can ultimately pay more for them in the long run than by routinely using sturdier reusable bags that can haul groceries for months or years.

Commissaries also offer hot/cold bags for sale. Costs for reusable bags in the civilian commercial market vary widely depending on the manufacturer and the material, with many available for less than $1.

As some areas have adopted “green” laws that look to curb plastic and paper waste, businesses might still offer those options for a price. That varies by location, too. For example, some jurisdictions in Virginia require charging 5 cents per single-use bag, while some in Maryland require 10 cents.

Smith, the commissary agency spokesperson, stressed that not all commissaries are affected yet.

“We are only eliminating single-use bags in Guam, Hawaii, Washington and California at this time,” she said.

By moving away from single-use bags, commissary officials note, the agency “will keep thousands of single-use bags, which take years to break down, out of landfills worldwide.”

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families.” She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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