New Orleans Consumers have to be near the top of their game to manage the tsunami of single-use plastic bags. The one-hundred percenters that you see at the local food co-op, bring their own nylon or cloth bags for their groceries, while the co-op only provides paper bags and boxes. At some of the big timers, a customer can still request paper bags and get their cashier scurrying from aisle to aisle looking to see if anyone still has the bags. At most Walmarts, if you keep your eyes open, there’s a big cabinet with a couple of holes on top near one of the entrances that lets you recycle the scores of bags they giving the customers, so the dutiful can participate in something of an exchange in bringing their bags back to them, as well as the plastic sleeves for newspapers, and any others that have blown into the yard or the city’s streets.
Some states and US territories have banned disposable bags. Among the gang are the states of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. They aren’t alone of course, since some eighty countries have banned single-use plastic bags in part, like the US, or entirely. The EU and Canada are now on track to ban entirely. There are a ton of cities that have taken this step, including most of the big metros of China.
India has recently joined this number. ACORN organizes street vendors, especially in Bengaluru, who are right in the middle of this transition. Many Indians are daily shoppers, buying fresh and just enough. Often they have their own bags or wheelie carts. Our vendors provided small bags for fruit and vegetables until the ban. ACORN and its director in Bengaluru, Suresh Kadashan, figured out a way to respond to the members’ demands and a way to manufacture biodegradable bags. We produce two sizes, large and small, costing only a few rupees, with just enough to cover the cost of manufacturing. In recent months orders and delivery have reached 20 to 30,000 bags, although this month with the rains, Suresh reports orders for only 7000.
We don’t see these bags in the US, but in some areas, we are seeing the return of jute bags, largely produced and shipped over from West Bengal in India. In Bengaluru, jute bags are three to five times more expensive than the ACORN biodegradable bags, although some of them are stronger for multiple uses. When our vendors, who are precarious workers, have to supply the bags, they are doing so at the least cost of course, because it is difficult to pass the cost onto the consumer.
The world market, especially in the US is growing for jute bags. According to the New York Times, and Raghavendra Gupta, an industry spokesman:
The global jute bag market is expected to grow from $2.3 billion in 2021 to $3.38 billion in 2026…. Shopping bags accounted for a quarter of the roughly $400 million in jute products that India exported in 2021, and over the past five years, the country’s jute bag exports had more than tripled…The United States is by far the largest export market for all Indian jute products, growing by 25.5% last year to $100 million.
All of this is better for the environment. ACORN’s bags are not in competition with jute bags for the world market, but they sure are making our members happy in Bengaluru!