Bag lady: DUMBO grocer wants to phase out plastic waste

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Two businesses in DUMBO have begun weaning customers off the latest symbol of wasteful consumerism: the plastic shopping bag.

Foragers, the high-end grocery store at Front and Adams streets, has begun deducting 10 cents from the purchases of patrons who decline plastic bags. And Water Street Restaurant and Lounge has stopped delivering food in plastic bags.

“We really want our store to be as garbage-free as possible,” said Anna Castellani, the store’s owner.

Castellani said she been trying to cure Brooklynites of their plastic addiction since opening her store two-and-a-half years ago, but said that only recently have customers become amenable to the idea.

“We were a little naive,” said Castellani. “We thought everyone knew how horrible plastic bags were for the environment and animals. They’d look at you and go, ‘Of course I want a bag. Not only do I want one bag, but I want two or three, and a few extra for my dogs.’”

Castellani said she’s noticed a change in that attitude recently, thanks to a spate of good press about the anti-plastic-bag movement.

Indeed, if the current plastic bag trend continues — and more governments join China, San Francisco, Ireland, Bhutan and Bangladesh in legislating against the bag — the plastic carrier may soon be as embarrassing an accoutrement as the gas-guzzling SUV.

In January, the City Council joined the worldwide trend, passing a law requiring stores with at least 5,000 square feet, or chain stores with five or more branches in the city, to collect plastic bags for recycling.

The goal of the bill, which goes into effect in July, is to save a tiny bit of the 12 million barrels of oil that are converted into plastic bags every year.

Opponents of the bill complain that plastic bags are a necessary convenience for New Yorkers, who can’t pile groceries into their cars. And New Yorkers do tend to reuse their shopping bags several times before finally discarding them.

“There may be some inconvenience [with the recycling bill], but that’s the price we pay for the greater good,” said Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights), one of the sponsors.

Foragers and Water Street are just the tip of the melting iceberg as far as DUMBO, and the rest of Brooklyn, is concerned.

Jane Kojima, a spokeswoman for the DUMBO Improvement District, said she’s lined up about 20 businesses that will begin reducing plastic bags starting in March, once the group distributes canvas bags to every household in the neighborhood.

As usual, the Park Slope Food Co-op, which charges members for plastic bags on the honor system, is way ahead of the green movement — though not as far ahead as its general manager would like.

“We collect less than half of what we should” because people don’t always drop a nickel in the collection box, said Co-op GM Joe Holtz.

This spring, the Co-op plans to up the ante, voting to entirely eliminate all disposable bags — plastic and paper — from the cooperative grocery store. Holtz predicted that the measure would pass.

Castellani said her three-week-old initiative appears to be having some effect. About 50 percent of her customers now decline plastic bags.

Corey Szopinski, who frequently fills up his stomach — and a biodegradable container — with Foragers’ sublime mac and cheese, said he’s thrilled with the new initiative.

“Business owners need to start thinking about reducing waste,” said Szopinski. “[And] now that they have biodegradable containers and potato starch utensils (which are awesome!), I go there instead of to restaurants that use Styrofoam or plastic.”

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