Food News

At Grocery Stores, Dallas' Paper and Plastic Bag Ban Confuses Customers and Store Clerks Alike

After the City of Dallas announced that it would be imposing a 5-cent tax on non-reusable shopping bags, most of us hauled the eighty-seven reusable bags out of our closets and put them in the car in anticipation of saving those nickels for more important things, like beer. Unfortunately, on the first shopping weekend after the ban, Dallasites were still deeply confused about what exactly the bag ban meant for their trip to the grocery store.

I decided to take a few trips to grocery stores around Dallas -- Kroger, WalMart, and Whole Foods -- to see whether or not the bag ban would have the intended effect of reducing the amount of plastic bags taken at the register. Somewhat surprisingly, many of the people I saw walking into the three Dallas-area grocery stores I visited this weekend were hauling in piles of reusable bags.

But there were still plenty of idiots (myself included) who had forgotten to grab their bags out of the back of whatever closet they're shoved in at the moment. At the Kroger on Capitol Avenue near Cityplace, a woman approached me in the parking lot as I put my plastic-bagged groceries into the back of my car and asked whether or not I had brought the plastic bags from home, because she was under the impression that they had been banned altogether.

At that same Kroger, it was clear that the employees had not been trained on how exactly to handle the new tax. After I'd swiped my card to pay, the cashier had to cancel the transaction because she'd forgotten to count the bags and ring them up before totaling my order. In the end, I was under-charged by ten or fifteen cents because there were a few bags that required double-bagging.

At a WalMart in North Dallas, the people seemed to exist in a time before the bag ban. Every cart that I saw pouring out of those double-doors was overflowing with plastic bags. As I checked out, the cashier didn't even mention the ban, but I did notice a five-cent surcharge on the receipt for the one plastic bag that I needed. In the high-volume checkout line, though, a woman dragging her 12 (yes, I counted) reusable bags out for packing full of groceries markedly slowed down the checkout process.

I figured that Whole Foods would be the place that I was most likely to see people bringing their own bags, and that was true to some extent. Still, there were plenty of people that thought that the store's usual paper bags would be available for free. Alas, because the paper bags don't meet the city's multi-use requirement, they were also a nickel each. But, when you're paying $32 for a jar of honey or whatever at a place like Whole Foods, you tend to not notice an additional sixty cents on your bill in the end.

What I was never charged for, though, were the thin plastic bags used in the produce department to bag up vegetables. You would imagine that these have the same propensity to get stuck in trees and rivers that worried Dwaine Caraway so deeply about the other plastic bags used in grocery stores, so it's interesting that the ordinance didn't either require retailers to charge for these bags, too, or provide a paper alternative, which stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's often offer.

Of course, the "bag ban" is in its infancy, so there is a chance that Dallasites will get better at bringing their reusies when they're grocery shopping. That is, of course, if the ordiance survives the legal challenges from local grocers that are almost certainly coming. The most likely outcome, though, is that we'll forget about our reusable bags by March in the same way that we forget about all those other resolutions we've made in New Years' past.