Ruth Johnson pushed her cart to the checkout at Oxendale’s Market in south Minneapolis on Thursday and then realized she had forgotten something that should have been on her grocery list — a reusable bag.
“I’m ashamed of myself because the bags are in my trunk,” Johnson said. “I don’t mind paying 5 cents, but I think I should be more careful about remembering.”
Minneapolis shoppers are adjusting to new city rules that nudge them toward reusable shopping bags by requiring stores to charge 5 cents for single-use plastic or paper bags. The fee, approved by the City Council in 2019 amid pushback from businesses, took effect Jan. 1. On Thursday, at cash registers across the city, many shoppers seemed aware of the change, even if they forgot their bags.
Lunchtime shoppers at Oxendale’s Market who forgot their bag could pay the nickel, pick up one of the store’s green reusable totes, or choose to carry their groceries in their arms.
Store manager Alan Zocher said the change was going well so far, but that it was too early to get a true reaction from customers. Cashiers asked customers if they brought bags, and signs on registers offered reminders.
“We’re just following the ordinance and doing our best to help the environment,” Zocher said.
The city, too, is pushing for education rather than punishment. Businesses won’t be fined for violating rules until summer, after a six-month learning period.
The ordinance applies to many types of stores, including gas stations and convenience stores. Dry cleaners, farmers market vendors and restaurants with takeout, however, are all exempt from the ordinance. Customers also won’t be charged for fruit and vegetable bags in grocery stores.
People who participate in food assistance programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, don’t have to pay the fee.
Representatives of Target, Lunds & Byerlys and Kowalski’s said they were implementing it in their Minneapolis stores. They had previously offered customers a 5-cent discount or charitable donation when they brought bags.
Kowalski’s Chief Operating Officer Mike Oase said they are disappointed they must charge customers but have implemented the change. They are providing an informational sheet to shoppers in their three Minneapolis stores.
“We always work pretty hard in our company to incentivize and educate customers on reusing and recycling and reducing bag usage aside from the ordinance,” he said.
Fiona Roedl said it will take her and her husband a couple of weeks to get used to the change, though sometimes they need paper bags.
“Right now, I’m perfectly willing to pay a nickel. I don’t care, it’s just a nickel,” Roedl said.
Some businesses that opposed the ordinance argued they would lose customers to suburbs without a bag fee. But Roedl doesn’t buy that.
“I’m not driving outside of my neighborhood to save a nickel because you’re spending more on gas going to an unfamiliar store where you don’t know where things are,” she said.
David Russ said he doesn’t mind the change since stores aren’t getting rich off the 5-cent fee that stays with the business.
“It’s not that big of a hit if you forget,” Russ said.
Jackee Wernersbach stopped at Oxendale’s on Thursday to grab a few more reusable totes, noting they will come in handy at other types of stores like gas stations.
“I always have something in the car, for when you don’t realize you might want to stop somewhere,” she said.
Shoppers at North Market in north Minneapolis on Thursday had heard about the change, too. Still, cashiers reminded patrons to bring their bag next time, pointing at a news story printed and taped to the register.
“I forgot it took affect today but it’s great,” said Sarah Hachey, who carried a few items out to her car in her arms. “People use too many bags without thinking. It’s a small price to pay to save all those bags from the garbage.”
Shone Scott, on the other hand, reuses single-use bags around the house. He read about the change but doesn’t tend to bring in a reusable tote.
Would he change his ways? “Probably not,” Scott said.
As she pushed her cart out of the store, Alyssa Carter said she hopes more people will be conscious bringing bags.
“I think in the beginning everyone gets upset about these kinds of things, but I think over time it will just be something that’s so natural,” she said.
With the new fee, Minneapolis joins cities and states nationwide trying to cut down on waste. In Duluth, retailers will have to start charging 5 cents for plastic bags in April. Washington, D.C. has had 5-cent fee for bags since 2010. California and Hawaii both have statewide bans on plastic bags and charge for other types of single-use bags.
Pam Jackson has mostly gone without single-use bags since 2017.
“I really do believe in recycling and trying to save our poor Earth,” she said. “I’ve got a gazillion bags in the car, and I just have to remember.”