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Published April 22 2010

More local shoppers using reusable shopping bags

From 50-cent bags to 5-cent discounts to cash register pitches, local grocery store managers say they try to turn on their customers to reusable shopping bags. And they say efforts are paying off.

On the eve of Earth Day, area store managers conceded that they don’t track reusable bag use and balked at venturing a guess about the percentage of converts among their customers. Thanks to a recent reusable bag giveaway spree, Fargo-Moorhead residents own hundreds of thousands of bags, even if they sometimes forget them in kitchens and cars.

But managers said more customers are using them.

“If you stand around the registers and watch, you see it’s really catching on,” said Hornbacher’s President Matt Leiseth. “People really use them.”

At the Osgood Hornbacher’s store in Fargo on Wednesday, Gate City Bank gave away bags from its fourth batch of 100,000 freebies it’s been offering up since 2007.

Fellow store managers concur.

“There are definitely more and more customers using them,” said Moorhead Cash Wise manager Greg Jaro. “It’s a growing trend.”

Stores have tried to spur that trend. At Hornbacher’s, customers get a 5-cent discount each time they bring a reusable tote. At Walmart, which sells bags for 50 cents, checkout staff offer them up, pointing out that they are sturdier and roomier than plastic, said Fargo manager Manda Roberson.

A number of businesses and organizations have given away reusable bags in recent years. Gate City Bank calculated that if each of the 400,000 bags it is giving away is used on only one grocery store trip, the petroleum saved on making plastic bags could fuel a car for 100,000 miles.

“They’ve been really popular, and we’ve had more and more requests for them,” said marketing manager Janess Sveet.

Marjorie Stalcup of Fargo made the switch to reusable totes more than a year ago. It was a bit of an adjustment: At first, she kept forgetting her canvas bag in the car. But now, it’s a relief not to have plastic bags piling up in her home.

“Plastic bags are getting in our landfills, on trees and in ditches and polluting,” said Stalcup, holding two totes of groceries at the Osgood Hornbacher’s. “They don’t disintegrate very well.”

Forgetfulness seems to be the No. 1 peeve of reusable bag converts.

“A common thing we hear from customers is, ‘I forgot it in the car,’ ” said Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for Walmart, which is considering parking lot reminders, among other solutions.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529