Starting next month if you shop at Valley Bookstore and didn’t bring your own bag you’ll be offered several options for toting your new reads, including a recycled cardboard box or waterproof wrapping paper.
Don’t ask for plastic, though. Not there or at other Jackson shops. On Nov. 1, Phase 2 of the town’s bag reduction ordinance kicks in, and that means retailers can’t give you a single-use plastic bag at checkout and must charge 20 cents if you’d like a paper bag. The town’s goal is to reduce waste and pollution.
“This is a challenge for the bookstore,” Steve Ashley, owner of the Gaslight Alley business, said in an email. “I support the ordinance, but it is making us rethink our packaging because, let’s face it, paper (books) & water (rain, snow & sleet) aren’t that compatible.”
Like Valley Bookstore, businesses around town are prepping. Not everyone has the same game plan, and some stores aren’t waiting for Nov. 1. Lee’s Tees, for example, switched gears over the summer, and it won’t have to worry about 20-cent fees.
“We are not doing any paper bags, just reusable bags for $1,” said Gavin Broderick, manager of the Town Square store. “We have an overall positive response.”
Wes Gardner of Teton Toys, which is downstairs from Lee’s Tees, sees what’s happening from two perspectives: as a business owner and as a board member of Teton County Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling.
“We have a number of different businesses trying out different strategies,” Gardner said. “Over the course of the next six to 18 months, businesses are going to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
“For me it’s exciting,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to mitigate some of the effects that we have on our environment as businesspeople.”
Teton Toys “never really had any plastic bags,” he said. “That wasn’t a hurdle for us.”
If customers spend over $100 at Teton Toys they can buy a reusable canvas bag for $5. Paper bags are available, Gardner said, but “I always train my employees to ask at least ‘Do you need a bag?’”
He estimates that 20% of customers say no, and he attributes that in part to publicity about the ordinance and the fact that it took effect April 15 at grocery stores and the biggest retailers, like T.J. Maxx.
“Just passing the ordinance,” he said, “already had an effect on a certain percentage of the public that doesn’t want to create more waste, doesn’t want those microplastics in the ecosystem for thousands of years, who recognize, ‘I don’t need this.’ ”
But there’s also a small number of people who still want a plastic bag and don’t want the “government telling them what to do,” he said.
“Part of this is about education,” Gardner said. As an Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling board member, “I’ve been working to get the right kind of paraphernalia out to businesses. One of the pieces is a reference sheet that goes on the counter.” (See box.)
It explains what the ordinance is and why it was adopted.
“To me the issue is between the cashier and the customer,” Gardner said. “If there’s a point of contention, that’s where it’s going to surface. ... You’re telling [customers] how they’ve lived their lives for sometimes 70 years is wrong. And that’s a difficult thing to ask a cashier to do.”
Nest, a shop on Pearl Avenue that sells apparel, gifts and home goods, is prepared for the conversations.
“Normally if someone has an oversize purse or already has a shopping bag we simply ask, ‘Do you want to add this to your bag or purse?’” store manager Hope Nartonis said.
When the fee is implemented, each staff member will ask, “Do you want to buy a bag for 20 cents?” she said.
But Nest also sells Baggu reusable bags, which are positioned “right up front by the counter,” she said. They are nylon and can hold 50 pounds.
“The handle is really long so it can actually go over your shoulder,” Nartonis said. “You don’t have to carry it in your hands.”
Spirits & Spice has never bagged items in plastic, owner Kim Weiss said, and when the store separated from the Vom Fass chain and took a new name it changed its bags, too.
“When we rebranded as Spirits & Spice in January 2018 and could select our own bags, we switched to recycled paper,” she said.
But Spirits & Spice also encourages customers to bring their own bags for the wine, vinegars and spices they purchase.
With the 20-cent fee coming up, “we’ve been giving away to locals reusable six-bottle wine bags to remind them,” Weiss said. “We will continue doing that as this new fee is implemented.”
John Frechette, owner of Made, a shop in Gaslight Alley that sells gifts and home items, anticipates a “getting used to it” phase. There’s the logistical effort of adding the bag to the sale when charging the customer, he said, but the “timing of the conversation” will be the toughest part.
“We also haven’t had much notification on how we are supposed to do reporting and payment, so we will see how that all shakes out.”
Made has always encouraged shoppers to bring their own bags, he said, and it sells totes.
As for specifics of complying with the bag ordinance, “our biggest hurdle has been our own internal strategy,” he said. To import thousands of low-cost bags from overseas and sell them to customers, he said, is a strategy that would go “against the store’s ethos of selling American-made goods.”
Valley Bookstore’s Ashley said his shop will have paper bags to offer customers. Adding the bag fee category to the point of sale system is “easy enough,” he said, but he prefers to give people other options.
Besides recycled cardboard boxes the store will have brown and “freezer” (waterproof) paper on rolls to wrap books in when requested — at no charge.
“Books are square, and we are fast wrappers,” he said.
A fourth option for customers will be to buy cloth bags — as durable but inexpensive as the bookstore could find. Because the store gets a lot of plastic packaging, Ashley is also looking at ways to recycle that into the “protect the books goal” as well, he said.
“We will have signs about the 20 cents, but needless to say it will be a conversation (which is a good thing) with the customer each time packaging is requested.
“All summer long I have noticed fewer and fewer requests for bags, and lots more shoppers arrive with their own cloth bag, so the process is working.”