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East West Market hopes humorous bags like ‘Wart Ointment Wholesale’ will persuade shoppers to shun single-use plastic bags
Leyland Cecco in Toronto
A plastic bag from East West Market. ‘We wanted to address an issue, but we’ve also made something popular, so it’s turned out great,’ said the shop’s owner, David Lee Kwen. Photograph: Courtesy of East West Market
If concern over the climate crisis or revulsion over the contamination of the food chain are not enough to change consumer behaviour, one grocery store is hoping that another emotion may persuade people to shun single-use plastic bags: shame.
Customers who don’t bring their own bags to the East West Market in Vancouver will instead have to carry their grocery home in bags reading “Wart Ointment Wholesale” or “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium”.
David Lee Kwen, the shop’s owner, insisted that the plan wasn’t to embarrass customers. “We wanted to give them something humorous, but also something that made them think at the same time,” he told the Guardian. “It’s human nature not to want to be told what to do.”
Kwen initially hoped that a fee on single-use bags would discourage their use. But when the five-cent a bag charge failed to stop people using plastic, he tried a different approach.
‘We wanted to give them something humorous, but also something that made them think at the same time,’ said David Lee Kwen, the shop’s owner. Photograph: Courtesy of East West Market
The bags are meant to force customers to think twice about consumption habits. In a social media post, the store points out that millions of plastic bags are used once before being discarded – and are part of growing problem of plastic waste.
Like countries around the world, Canada is grappling with a deluge of plastics which cannot be recycled and instead end up in landfills.
Earlier this week, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, announced plansto ban single-use plastics in 2021, including grocery bags, plastic cutlery and straws.
Kwen admits there may have been an unintended consequence to the bags: “Some of the customers want to collect them because they love the idea of it,” he said. But he still believes the plan is working. “Even if you have the bag, you have to explain its origin to your friends. And then, we’ve started a conversation.”
The bags, which Kwen has run in limited numbers of 1,000, cost customers five cents. It costs extra for him to print the newly designed bags so he’s hopeful customers instead opt to bring in their own.
In the meantime, he plans to transfer the images on the plastic bags to canvas bags. “It’s a double-edged sword. We wanted to address an issue, but we’ve also made something popular, so it’s turned out great.”
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