The familiar green plastic bags imprinted with the logo of Wilton’s hometown market will soon be a thing of the past.

On Aug. 1, 2019, the state enacted a new 10-cent tax on single-use plastic bags, to encourage shoppers to be more environmentally aware and reduce their use plastic bags. The 10-cent charge per plastic bag that stores collects gets sent right to the state–neither the Town of Wilton nor the stores keep it.

With the new tax, the Village Market will completely phase out using plastic bags at the register, once the store’s current supply runs out (sometime likely toward the end of 2019).

Owners Tim Dolnier and Mike Picheco decided to make the change as well as some others at the same time. Starting Sept. 1, they will also begin charging shoppers 10-cents per paper bag, something several Wilton businesses are doing as well. While that’s not a state imposed tax, it is a fee the store will collect.

Part of the decision to charge for paper bags is because there’s a significant cost to the store to use paper bags at the register.

“Plastic bags are about four-and-a-half cents each and a paper bag is about 17-and-a-half cents each. So it is a significant cost increase. Our plastic bags are bigger and stronger, and they were just better vehicles for carrying groceries. It’s not a one for one switch that you’re making–you’re probably talking two to three paper bags per plastic bag. So there’s a significant economic factor, and even still the 10 cents isn’t going to cut that,” Dolnier explains.

But he adds, it’s less an economic decision and more about the environment.

“Whenever a state or a municipality bans plastic bags, the goal isn’t to get people to switch to paper. It’s to get people to switch to reusable bags. If you really start to look into it, paper bags are arguably as bad or worse for the environment than plastic bags, in terms of carbon footprint. They take up seven times more space, so now you have seven tractor trailers driving across the country with paper bags. There are a lot of negatives to paper bags.”

The store is trying to do even more for the environment and help shoppers get used to bringing their own reusable bags–Village Market has paid, and will continue to pay shoppers five cents per reusable bag.

“We understand some people aren’t going to be thrilled with the idea of paying 10 cents for paper bags too. That’s why we’re going to continue to pay you five cents to bring a reusable bag. That’s a cost to you, so it is a cost to us. I know you don’t want to pay 10 cents, but you have the ability to make five cents. That’s where the responsibility comes onto the consumer to make that decision for themselves. It’s not on the businesses only to be part of this–it’s a shared responsibility between the retailers to consumers, all individuals across the board,” Dolnier says.

For the most part, Village Market shoppers have been making the adjustment. Around this same time last year the store was paying out about $50 a week in bag credits to shoppers who brought their own bags–around 1,000 bags a week. This year, during the first week of August, the store paid out three times as much, at $150 in bag credits.

The store also distributed 500 reusable bags in the first week of August, to help spark the habit of having reusable bags available in the car for shopping trips. And getting in the habit now will help as town officials and Wilton Go Green discuss a possible town-wide plastic bag ban, joining the majority of other Fairfield County towns–and a possible statewide plastic bag ban in the future.

“It’s coming anyway. Whether we choose to do it Sept. 1 or it gets on the ballot. I think with the exception of New Canaan and Darien, pretty much all of our lower Fairfield county neighbors are already charging [for paper bags] as well,” Dolnier adds.

Other Environment-Friendly Village Market Initiatives 

Another initiative in the works is something that will not only reward consumers for switching to reusable bags but also help out local non-profits. Dolnier and Picheco are trying to put together a program where customers will be given a choice to donate their five-cent per-reusable bag credit to a different local organization each month.

“We’re giving out up to $150-$200 a week in reusable bag credits. Maybe we’re be cutting them a check for $500-$600. Not everybody’s going to donate it, but now they can say, ‘Hey, Don’t forget your reusable bag. This month at Village Market, take your five cents for your reusable bag and donate it to Ambler Farm.’ Then next month it can be Wilton Go Green. Then it can be the Wilton YMCA. Then it can be in the Historical Society or whoever.”

But what about all the plastic used throughout the rest of the store? It’s not just as simple as wanting to be done with plastic completely. Dolnier says there aren’t a lot of viable options out in the supermarket and food service industry right now to eliminate it altogether. But the store is taking several steps to be more environmentally friendly. About six months ago, cardboard boxes made an appearance at the salad bar for people who want to use that option. Dolnier says the store is hoping to introduce a new alternative for plastic deli containers in the coming weeks.

“It probably won’t completely get rid of the plastic ones, but I think it can significantly reduce the amount. In all of these things, it’s not as simple–have you seen a better alternative? It has to close tightly. It has to maintain freshness. It has to be able to withstand the moisture of some of the salads,” says Dolnier, also pointing out that customers who want to bring in their own glass containers from home, can’t. “That violates state health code, you’re literally not allowed to do that.”

The store owners want to offer solutions “sooner rather than later,” and they’re putting the effort into searching them out. But whatever options they do find have to be economically viable for the store so it doesn’t have to pass along increased cost to the customer.

Customer behavior does have a lot to do with what the store will stock.

“We’ve introduced a couple waters that are in cardboard boxes now, but to be honest, they’re not selling that well so the consumer has to want the product. We can’t force these things on people. We can present people the options. Wilton Go Green introduced us to reusable produce bags–a thin mesh bag, so you can put your limes in there, or asparagus or whatever in it and then rinse it out at home and use it again. So you won’t have to use those plastic produce bags that aren’t banned yet,” says Dolnier.

Village Market does offer to recycle the other plastic bags used throughout the store, with a recycle bin right in front of the store. That’s a service the store provides, even though it costs them. And they try to make sustainable choices across all the store operations.

“We pay to have someone collect and recycle it because it’s a service we want to provide to our customers, to our community and to our environment. That’s a cost that we’re willing to take on. All of our cardboard is recycled. All of the plastics that are being used in our kitchen are recycled, a lot of our wasted greens and stuff like that go to Ambler Farm, whether they’re using it to feed the animals or compost. We’re doing just about as much as we can,” says Dolnier.

That includes offering products for sale, including metal straws, non-plastic sandwich bag alternatives, reusable water bottles and food storage, and more.

Dolnier encourages customers who spot items elsewhere on their travels–whether it’s a food storage option to be used in store or an item they might stock for sale–to bring it to the attention of store personnel.

“We’re going to try what we can and our customers are great about bringing things to our attention that they’ve seen that they find to be helpful or more environmentally friendly. And we’ll always do our best to accommodate and use those things,” he says.