Princeton Merchants Association Launches Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling Campaign

recycleThe Princeton Merchants Association has launched a single-use plastic bag reduction campaign  called “Learning our ABC’s.”

The campaign will encourage the reduction, reuse and recycling of single-use plastic bags. Merchants will be encouraged to ask customers if they need a bag, shoppers will be encouraged to bring their own bags, and bins will be placed throughout town and homes for residents and businesses to collect and recycle plastic bags.

Current participants include McCaffrey’s Food Market, the Princeton University Store, the Whole Earth Center, Craft Cleaners, Sustainable Princeton, the Princeton Senior Resource Center and the town of Princeton.

“The Princeton Merchants Association is very pleased to offer this solution to the community and we look forward to working with our members and non-members to raise awareness around the importance of reducing and recycling single-use plastic bags, film and wrap,” said John Marshall, president of the Princeton Merchant’s Association.

The purpose of “Learning our ABC’s” is to reduce the amount of single-use bags and plastic sent to the landfill, organizers said. The effort follows the best landfill waste reduction strategy by emphasizing reduction first, then reuse, and lastly, recycling.

The Princeton University Store and McCaffrey’s are currently the only locations for public collection and recycling of single-use plastic bags. Utilizing Trex Recycling via McCaffrey’s,  as part of the new campaign up to ten new containers will be placed at various locations around town. Residents will also be able to recycle newspaper bags, bread bags, food storage bags and other plastic film such as dry cleaning bags.

To encourage at-home recycling, McCaffrey’s will soon be selling BagSavR receptacles, which shoppers can use to collect plastics to bring back to any local collection container. Shoppers at McCaffrey’s can save $2 on a BagSavR when they bring two full bags of bags back to the store for recycling.

Some advocates for the environment have asked the town to institute a fee of 10 cents per plastic bag at stores in Princeton to reduce plastic bag use. The governing body has so far declined to move on the proposal.


  1. While, to me, it sounds like a good idea to charge for plastic bags, I do worry when I read that the burden of paying these fees will fall on those who can least afford it. What I’m not sure about, though, is just why that would be the case. I welcome any fact-based explanation of that, because I loathe the thought of adding to the burdens already facing the financially challenged.

    But I do think that, rich or poor, if you know you’re going to shop, you could take along reusable bags. I keep quite a collection in my car, and also have a couple of net bags in pouches that I throw in my purse for
    those times I’m out without my car. A little forethought is all it takes. I do notice people in the supermarket (who appear to be from all walks of life) checking out using many, many plastic bags rather than bringing their own. Maybe they’re just visiting the area? (So far I haven’t worked up the courage to ask!)

    My larger reusable bags cost very little, and I especially value the sturdy 99-cent bags from Whole Foods that last for, well, years. As have Wegmans bags, and the McCaffrey’s bag for which I think I paid maybe two dollars. (Grocery shopping runs in my family!) Whatever the price, it would be quickly made back in the savings over paying plastic bag fees, so ultimately it’s not a big financial burden. It would almost make sense to hand out reusable bags at some key Princeton merchants’ establishments, if that could be funded.

    These days, if I do end up with the occasional plastic bag, I’m almost glad to have it, as they are handy for the occasional item I hang off a friend’s door knob when dropping off something. But I’ve almost completely eliminated my consumption of them, and am glad to not have to make room at home to amass a bundle to drop off in the nearest recycling bin.

    So why go “backwards” by reestablishing those bins all over the place? I think that will encourage more use of plastic. Also, and this is important, from what I’ve read, there’s little market for the end product of
    recycled plastic bags, and it costs far more to process them than the end product can be sold for. Is this really true? I would welcome hard information on that, too. Clearly I’m on the fence about this issue, but really would like to avoid creating a “poor tax” on the most vulnerable population.

    1. (1) Even if you get rid of plastic shopping bags, it doesn’t eliminate other sources of plastic trash, e.g. the newspaper bags, dry cleaning plastic, and bread bags mentioned in the article. I think it’s great that the PMA offers an option and don’t agree that it will increase the use of plastic. After all, the newspaper deliverers and dry cleaners don’t ask “paper or plastic,” right? (2) People who are financially stressed may not be willing to purchase a 99 cent (and many cost more) reusable bag and are unlikely to shop at Whole Foods (!). Reusing plastic shopping bags is a reasonable alternative. (3) People also use plastic shopping bags in lieu of purchasing small (also plastic) trash can liners. Until someone comes up with a reasonably priced leak-proof alternative, some plastic is here to stay. So … all in all, I applaud the PMA for what I think is a creative and hopefully effective idea.

      1. I use the plastic bags for garbage, this obviating the need to buy plastic trash bags. Paper bags just do not hold up for most garbage. If there was an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic for trash disposal, I would use it.

        1. I stopped lining my (washable) wastebaskets, but do use plastic drawstring liners in the kitchen, I just haven’t found an alternative. I salve my conscience by not buying water in plastic bottles, having switched to reusable jugs and a filter pitcher. I also did that to “make it okay” to use disposable diapers, because if I were a parent, I’d want to! 🙂

          1. Must also mention the WHOLE EARTH CENTER as a great resource for all things biodegradable, good & healthy. And Faith, compostable disposable diapers are now made by several companies. They’re a nice alternative to the permanent preservation of conventional disposable diapers in landfills. The City of Toronto composts diapers, kitty litter, & sanitary products as part of their “Green Bin” program. Composting anything organic(from a living/once living source) is possible!

        2. Yes, Joe, there are fine alternative to plastic bags for garbage, etc. Compostable bags in every size (from small sacks to “lawn & leaf”) can be found easily in mainstream markets. I’ve purchase them in McCaffrey’s,Target, other stores & online. Compostable bags are often green colored. They break down over time (not prematurely). BioBag, Glad & other companies make them. And, if you know any dog-owners, please tell them they can place animal waste in a little composting tank that’s easy to install on any property, so their doggie’s do doesn’t smell up their yard & isn’t preserved forever in baggies.

    2. Thanks for your post, Faith. I agree with you on two points. More collection bins placed everywhere seems kind of “backwards”, if our goal is to be free of plastic altogether. Eliminating non-biodegradeable bags is a small thing our town merchants CAN achieve! As for those who can’t afford reusable bags, I’ll bet those of us who have clean, extra bags would be happy to hand them over to stores & the municipality for others to use. Merchants & citizens together easily can & surely will be the people who make this movement successful!

  2. Excellent alternative! Demonstrates that making regulation and fees the go-to solutions for everything can be short-sighted. Those options are available if this idea doesn’t work, but why start there? Thanks, PMA.

  3. Big thanks go to every Princeton merchant who increases efforts to reduce landfill waste. You’re doing far more than keeping trash out of the waste stream! Sustainable Princeton has been pushing Princeton officials to adopt a bag ordinance that includes bans, fees, penalties, & law enforcement. Sadly, valuable municipal staff time & costly legal work has already been devoted to the establishment of SPs punitive, limited “bag ban ordinance”. A stepped up merchants campaign will hopefully slow government expansion & stop municipal spending on bag control enforcement measures. In my opinion, may the costly proposed “bag ban ordinance” now R.I.P. Wouldn’t it be great for taxpayers, if our Municipality’s continual reliance on expansion, punishment, bans, fees, & enforcement, was always so easily calmed? Simple, positive ways Princeton can further reduce waste & costs do exist. For example, Council might award a “Green Star” to local vendors who truly minimize landfill waste & take actions to protect our planet. Princeton residents love to support businesses run by those with conscience, so, “green stars” would probably create a positive ripple effect of good will for everyone. The addition of free composting, to Princeton’s existing free recycling program, is another positive move Council could make. Our super municipal composting program now offers an easy, clean way for households to reduce landfill waste (see my note below). With more & more residents composting everyday in Princeton, & with gasoline prices going down, our landfill trash removal costs should be going down too…not up! if landfill waste removal costs aren’t on the decline, Council’s action might focus on restating the allowable trashcan size & number. Someday, charging for trash pick up in excess of what’s allowed per household would be fair. That policy would appropriately place the burden for trash removal directly on those generating excessive amounts of waste. If charges or fees should be adopted anywhere, THAT’s the logical place. Fairness, good will, & smart efforts, are exactly what we need here. Every Princeton resident & business is a shareholder in our town’s success. Again, thanks to those who step up & do good. *(My active household consciously composts & recycles. We create less than one-half of a “tall kitchen sized” trash bag each week for landfill trash pick up. We can put our trashcan out once a month. )

    1. FreshAir, the proposed bag fee ordinance is not a Sustainable Princeton initiative. It was brought forth by a group of Princeton residents working independently.

      1. See my post thanking Diane Landis above. Our Mayor & Bainy Suri both have a connection (presently & historically, according to the press, press releases/announcements, & websites) to Sustainable Princeton.

  4. Its encouraging to read the comments supporting the reduction in single use plastics in Princeton. Sustainable Princeton is helping to spearhead The Learning your ABCs campaign because we believe in a collaborative approach to solving environmental issues. Our mission is to work together to reduce waste to landfills and energy from fossil fuels. Stay tuned because we hope this is a first in a number of joint projects with PMA to reduce, reuse and recycle. Two points of clarification: Sustainable Princeton is an independent nonprofit. We receive our funding from grants and individual donations. Also, the proposed bag fee ordinance is an effort led by a group of individuals, not our organization.

    1. Thanks, Diane, for your clarification about Sustainable Princeton’s role. Very glad that SP will be part of a positive alliance with merchants. From news sources, town meetings, event postings, & discussions amongst locals, many were under the impression that Sustainable Princeton’s Board Member/Mayor, Liz Lempert, & SP’s Bainy Suri are the engine behind the establishment of the fee imposing “bag ban ordinance” (along with ordinance co-author, Daniel Harris). That engine’s “fuel” was thought to be the voter’s ballot results in Princeton. The municipal hours spent on the bag ordinance have also supported these assumptions. PMAs announcement of a more positive approach is appreciated, and a wise alternative. Frankly, If merchants phased out plastic bags on their own, replacing their supplies over time with biodegradable items, they could do so MUCH to solve Princeton’s concern for plastic in the environment and so much to help our planet. (It’s sad that some merchants want to hold onto indestructible plastic so hard.) Maybe SP will educate merchants to the healthier alternatives available. Wishing you huge success with resident-friendly programs.

  5. A few more clarifications. Bainy Suri no longer works with Sustainable Princeton. She was a volunteer last year and was on payroll for a few months at the beginning of this year. Also, SP did not publicly support the bag fee. We were interested in partnering with merchants to find a solution that worked for everyone. Very happy about the great collaborative that has been formed as a result and look forward to future work with PMA. Our organizational mission is to work with businesses, schools, residents and the municipality to find ways to help with their energy and waste reduction efforts and we have a host of programs to help do should peek at our website. Also, the writing of the ordinance was done by three volunteers from the community. Sustainable Princeton chose not to be involved.

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