Thunder Bay convenience store finds novel way to alleviate bag waste

Alley’s Corner Variety started Bag Buy Back program to recycle reusable shopping bags.
Stock image of reusable shopping bag
Photo: Shutterstock

A small corner convenience store in Thunder Bay's Westfort area is looking to make a difference when it comes to the environment.

Heather Ambro-Bergeron and her mother Sharon Ambro have owned and operated Alley's Corner Variety on Walsh and Franklin streets since 2009 and have found a way to recycle gently used reusable bags that accumulate in people's homes.

They started the Bag Buy Back, which helps to put recyclable bags back in use.

Ambro-Bergeron said they were making efforts to be more conscious of the disposables that they use in the store and are trying to encompass a variety of different carryalls for their customers.

“We originally started with your regular old plastic bags, and then we switched to a 100-per cent biodegradable plant-based plastic bag,” she says. “We used those for about five years but then, with the federal government's ban on single-use plastics, we had to switch to paper bags. Since then, we've had difficulties finding paper bags for our use.”

She adds the paper bags could only hold so much and if someone wanted to purchase a couple of bottles of pop, it wouldn't be very efficient for them to carry that out in a paper bag.

“We were noticing the growing need for reusable bags, but it's near impossible to order them—at least for us,'' she continues. “Unless you're buying huge quantities it's just cost prohibitive.”

Ambro-Bergeron says she has accumulated a mismatch of these big-box reusable bags at her home that she simply doesn't use.

“I wondered what do I do with them and then I thought maybe we could do something like a buyback program where people can come bring us their gently used bags. We buy them for 15 cents a bag and then instead of giving out paper bags, we'll give out reusable bags and we'll charge the customer 15 cents.”

She adds, “We have so many reusable bags at home, and everybody seems to forget them when they go to the grocery store.”

Ambro says buying the bags back and selling them back to the customers who come without bags at the same price is not for profit but a good way to recycle the accumulated bags. Two weeks into the Bag Buy Back initiative, the idea is catching on. Ambro says when people accumulate too many of the bags, they just throw them in the garbage.

“So what's the use of having reusable bags if you just can throw them in the garbage? They take longer to break down than a plastic bag,” she says. The mother-daughter team urges other small stores to try this method of recycling.

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