Vermont Book Shop customers can now ‘take a bag, leave a bag’

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard will soon turn its attention to crafting an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags from being used for local business transactions.
But some local businesses aren’t waiting for a new law; they’re already taking steps to discourage customers from relying on plastic bags to carry out their purchases.
The Independent on Feb. 25 reported on Buy Again Alley’s transition to paper bags and reusable bags.
Now the historic Vermont Book Shop at 38 Main St. has joined the environmentally friendly fold with a “Take a Bag, Leave a Bag” program. The business has a bin of free, reusable bags for customers to use, and replenish, based on their needs.
Jenny Lyons, the shop’s sales and marketing manager, launched the program on March 4. She explained she’d been reading about local efforts to eliminate plastics from the waste stream, an effort punctuated by a Middlebury Town Meeting Day referendum that encourages the selectboard to craft an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags for carryout purchases at local businesses.
Middlebury voters resoundingly endorsed the referendum by an 838 to 211 tally on March 5.
Lyons also learned of a local sewing collective that had been crafting reusable bags and distributing them for free to encourage shoppers to take a pass on plastic.
“That got a few wheels turning in my head,” she said with a smile.
So with support from Vermont Book Shop owner Becky Dayton, Lyons set up a store bin in which she placed around a dozen reusable bags she had in her possession.
Within no time, the program was humming along.
“Within 24 hours, someone from the community came in and put in at least 10 or 12 more (bags),” Lyons said. “And since then, there have been a couple more refills by people in the community.”
Customer reaction, according to Lyons: “It’s all positive. Not everyone takes advantage of it, but it’s been nothing but positive feedback. People have been pleasantly surprised and supportive of this initiative.”
Vermont Book Shop staff have always set a good example when it comes to environmental responsibility.
“We’re all good at the counter about asking, ‘Do you need a bag today?’ rather than just putting things in a bag,” Dayton explained. “We have a lot of paper bags available, too.”
The shop still maintains a supply of plastic bags for customers who insist on using one in order to protect purchases from harsh outdoor weather, or for some other reason. But even those bags are atypical.
“I have for about a decade been buying biodegradable plastic bags from our vendor,” Dayton said. “They are considerably more expensive, but it does make me feel a little bit better. They are good, solid thick ones that can be reused.”
She’s hoping the availability of reusable fabric bags will make plastic an even rarer customer request.
“I made a new year’s resolution around seven or eight years ago that I would never take a plastic bag from a grocery store, and I started carrying around the foldable nylon ones that we sell here in the store,” Dayton recalled.
She said she’s been 99-percent successful in adhering to her resolution.
“I have long thought it was one of the easiest things we could do to keep plastic bags out of our waste stream,” she said. “I have accumulated a very large collection of reusable bags, which are a good thing to share.”
Lyons is confident the shop can keep the reusable bags program going even if there’s an ebb in drop-offs.
“In our business, cloth bags are ubiquitous,” Lyons said. “Publishers use them a lot for promotional giveaways. When we go to book conference, we always come home with totes and totesof bags. So it all naturally fell into place.”
Shoppers also have the option of buying a tote bag — including a Vermont Book Shop-branded bag, in a variety of colors, for $14.
Dayton is gradually adding other “green” touches to her shop, including an energy audit and an upgrade to LED light fixtures. She and her employees are also avid recyclers.
“It’s little things,” she said. “The same kinds of things we do at home, we try to do here.”
And she reminds people the simple act of shopping local pays environmental dividends. It cuts down on vehicle emissions and supports the local economy.
Both Lyons and Dayton strongly back a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags. Dayton believes her remaining biodegradable, multi-use plastic bags wouldn’t be subject to a new ordinance, but she has no plans to argue if her inventory is judged to be non-complaint.
Middlebury selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter said he’ll recommend the town’s Policy Committee be assigned the task of drafting a single-use bags ordinance. The public will be invited to help shape the ordinance as it winds its way to the selectboard for final approval during the coming months.
Carpenter isn’t sure when a final ordinance will be ready. The selectboard in April will sort out committee assignments and meet for a “retreat” at which the panel will agree on 2019 priorities. He said the bag ordinance will be one of those priorities.
“I believe (an ordinance) has support from a majority of the board, and it might be unanimous,” he said. “And we’ve seen there’s very strong support from the community.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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