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Commissary and Plastic: No Ban on the Horizon

bagger 482As more and more grocery stores and municipalities ban plastic bags or, in some places like Washington, D.C., tax their use, the commissary still offers them.

But after one website questioned whether or not the commissary should be offering plastic bags anymore, I wanted to know what the Defense Commissary Agency's (DeCA) plans were on the issue.

Answer: they aren't getting rid of them any time soon.

"DeCA continues to study various alternatives when it comes to patron shopping bags," said DeCA spokesman Kevin Robinson, "until such a time as the retail industry as a whole adopts a standard that is accepted nationwide, or congressional legislation mandates a change. In the business venue under which we operate, offering paper or plastic and of course the reusable, is the preferred method and continues to align with industry standard."

In 2011 one base commander, Col. Carl Coffman at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall wanted to get rid of all plastic bags by 2013. But because DeCA operates as a separate entity on base, Coffman wasn't able to dictate policy in the store.

“My initial plan was to go down to the commissary and talk to the commissary manager and say I don’t want to give patrons the option of plastic bags anymore,” he told me for a Military.com story at the time. “Believe it or not the joint base commander doesn’t have that authority.”

In 2011 plastic bags cost the Myer-Henderson Hall commissary $82,000 a year for about 3.6 million plastic bags, Coffman said. DeCA estimated they would distribute about 500 million plastic bags worldwide over that year.

In 2013, the last year for which there is available data, DeCA used about 480 million plastic bags at a cost to DeCA of $.02 per bag, or about $9.5 million total.

Commissary officials said since 2007 a policy prohibiting double bagging has been in place. But we can likely all agree that the policy is frequently ignored.

"Double bagging of either plastic or paper is prohibited except for instances where customers return their own bags for reuse or when a customer specifically requests their purchases be double bagged. We implemented the policy because it is environmentally sound and it reduces our operating costs," Robinson said. "This is a DeCA policy but it's application can vary from store to store because it hinges on the cooperation of store officials, baggers (who are NOT store employees) and patrons (who can ultimately decide if they want double bagging or not)."

DeCA does also offer both paper and, for a fee, reusable bags in the store. In 2013 they use nearly 92 million paper bags, which at an average cost of $.0.06 per bag, cost of about $5.1 million. And since 2006 they have sold ore than 6 million reusable bags. Additionally, in December of last year they placed plastic bag recycling containers in their stores. So far in 2014, they have collected 278,940 pounds of plastic.

A system that allows the commissary to charge for bags would literally take an act of Congress. So would giving patrons a credit (like Target, for example, does) when they bring their own bags instead of using those provided by the store.

 

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