On Thursday afternoon, Rocky Herring, Taneytown store manager of Kennie’s Marketplace, took a break from bagging groceries and his other duties to hold up his company’s new innovation — a more durable, reusable plastic bag with the Kennie’s marquee and name on top of light tan field.
“This is the 125-use bag,” he said. “We even put a funny on it, ‘It is a violation to use this bag anywhere but Kennie’s.’ ”
In truth, the small grocery chain with four locations in southern Pennsylvania in addition to Taneytown would like customers to reuse the bags anywhere they like, but to keep bringing them back to Kennie’s locations in particular. The stores will be phasing out their grey, single-use plastic bags at checkout beginning Jan. 1.
The new, reusable bags will be available for 10 cents at checkout in the new year, as will paper bags for those who prefer them, according to Herring.
The Westminster Common Council voted in May to make that city the third municipality in Maryland, after Chestertown and Takoma Park, to impose a ban on single-use plastic bags.
Kennie’s is not making the change because of any government requirement, though.
“This is something we wanted to do to help our environment, really,” Herring said of the decision. “We used over 5 million plastic bags last year, which is 37 tons of plastic.”
And although the manufacturer of the single-use bags alleges that they can actually degrade faster than some paper bags, Herring said plastic still poses a problem.
“It’s where they end up — in the waterways,” he said.
The hope is that the new bags being more durable and reusable will incentivize people to hold onto them, Herring said.
“They’re still recyclable, and we offer recycling,” he said. “So people can bring these and other bags back here and recycle them.”
So far, customers seem receptive to the idea.
“I think it’s a great idea. We have too many plastic bags laying around,” Nancy Shifler of Union Bridge said after loading her groceries in her car.
As a way to jump-start customers’ collection of the new bags, Kennie’s has been offering three of the new bags for free for every $20 spent, up to $60, according to Herring, so a $60 grocery trip can net you nine of the bags — something Shifler has been taking advantage of.
“I have seven now, so I won’t have to use all of them every time,” she said.
The bags are 2.25-millimeter thick, low-density polyethylene — noticeably thicker than the typical single-use plastic bag.
“They’re very sturdy, and they can hold a lot of stuff. I got a good amount of stuff in one bag,” said Dawn Bladen, who had come to Kennie’s on Thursday from Westminster. “I like them a lot.”
Most customer feedback has been fairly positive, Herring said, though he has had one or two people comment saying, “I hope it doesn’t drive me away.”
“It’s really just a change in habit,” Herring said. "You just have to make sure you have your bags."
Kennie’s also offers three more permanent bags, from a basic canvas bag for $1.99, to an insulated bag for $2.99, to a premium bag with a padded, box-like structure for $4.99, according to Herring. The Taneytown location has been a leader in using those bags for some time, he said.
“We used to give five cents per bag for everyone who brought them back, and we had the highest numbers for redemptions,” he said.
They discontinued the five-cent reward, Herring said, but the habit of bringing the bags in stayed.
There are, however, always a few detractors.
“My personal bags I like better,” said Julie McCullen, of Union Bridge. She said she tends to bring thicker, permanent bags to shop, but on Thursday she walked out with a number of the 125-use bags loaded with groceries.
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“These are more — it’s going to take some getting used to, I’ll put it that way,” she said.