A group of high school seniors took to the streets – or at least the parking lots – to do their part in combating the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag, and to get others to pledge to do their parts as well, cleaning up the environment one shopper at a time.
The students, juniors at the Good Hope School, were distributing shopping bags made from recycled materials. The bags were free to anyone who wanted one. All the shoppers had to do was sign a pledge to use it when they go shopping, leaving at least a few of the store's plastic bags behind.
Thursday the kids were in the parking lot of Stop & Shop near Frederiksted. With the permission of the store's manager, Amad Abdelghani, they were offering the bags to customers coming into the store, and a lot of them were taking the colorful carriers.
Reusable shopping bags are better for the environment, several of the shoppers agreed as they carried their new totes into the store. Plastic, after all, lasts a long time in the environment; on a small island like St. Croix there's not that many places for it to go.
The bags also might help save a little money too.
“When the bag is full, the shopping's done,” said Barbara Emmanuel.
Store manager Abdelghani said the store uses “pallets and pallets” of the disposable plastic bags, tens of thousands every month. That costs the store money, a cost which, in turn, gets passed on to the consumer. So if people carried their groceries home in reusable bags they wouldn't just be “saving the Earth.” If enough people picked up the practice, they'd save a little money.
Shop & Stop, like so many stores on the island, sells reusable bags, and customers have to decide if they want to spend a couple of dollars now in the hopes of saving much more than money later. When the students offered them for free, the decision became easy, as shopper after shopper attested by signing the pledge and walking away with a bag,
The Good Hope juniors took over the project from the school's class of 2011, which started its drive to rid the island of disposable bags in 2008. According to teacher Ingrid Camacho, the class originally sold about 2,000, but this year's group decided to give away 2,500.
The students even appeared before the V.I. Senate a few years ago, Camacho said, pressing the lawmakers to ban disposable bags. They urged the senators to enact a six-month transition period in which grocery and convenience stores charged a small fee for each plastic bag, to drive home to shoppers how many bags they use. At the end of the period, the stores would no longer be able to give disposable bags away.
Though the senators praised the students for their effort, they declined to act on their suggestion. Camacho said only Sen. Shawn Michael Malone agreed to bring a bill, and he pursued a more stringent bill, which has never made it to a vote.
Once a shopper has a reusable bag – or two or three – they have to remember to carry them into the store and use them. That will take a little time, but it will happen, said student Jaleel Christopher.
“When people get used to doing it, it will become a habit,” he said.