Free tote bag with purchase. Used to give ya such a thrill didn’t it?

I remember the seeming novelty of earning a prize, just for doing something I was already planning on doing, shop. And it did feel like a type of reward at first, at least I think I remember that it did. Now, my internal monologue goes a little something like this:

Crap, how can I politely turn this down? Where will I put this? Maybe I could use it to store my gym shoes? Wait no, I already do that with my Reformation one… Could I maybe use it to start storing loose hair ties and bobby pins? Why would my dentist’s office think I would possibly want this?

If you’re yelling at your screen “But single use plastic!!,” YES! You’re right! The typical tote is more eco-friendly than a single use plastic bag, especially considering their durability and end life. If the question is between reusable (and usually make of a natural fabric like cotton) vs. single use plastic then the answer is a no brainer. But that’s not the right question, at least that’s not the whole of it. 

Where was your free tote made? How was it made? Under what conditions were they made? How were they made cheap enough to be priced for free? And if the price of the tote bag is hidden in the price of whatever you’re purchasing, can you opt OUT of the free bag in order to take OUT that hidden cost?

Maybe this sounds hyperbolic, but it feels like you get free totes for just about everything now. I took a quick poll of my friends and they echoed my internal dialogue and feeling of being tote-ally overwhelmed (sry, had to). Here’s what I heard:

“I just stuff them under my sink at this point… wouldn’t throwing them out be worse?” 
“I kind of cycle through which ones I use, but some are bad sizes and I just never use them and they just hang there over my door knob”
“I keep them under my bed. I store makeup and old clothes in some...”
Those of my friends that did “get rid" of their totes either donated them or threw them out. No one mentioned dropping them off to be recycled... I probably need to have a sit down chat with them. For the record if you’re local, GrowNYC has clothing / textile drop-off locations throughout the city’s farmer’s markets. It’s tax deductible, for Pete’s sake!
I realize that my small poll of friends is probably not representative of the larger population, but I’m willing to bet, that if you took a second and were honest with yourself, you just might admit that the pile of tote bags under your sink, in the corner of your closet, hanging from your bedroom door knob, is less of a thrill and more of a burden.  

When we started SENSE of SHELF, it was always critical to us that we used 100% recycled and recyclable materials for shipping and bagging our items. That being said, when someone tells me, “Don’t bag it up, I’ll just put it in the bag I’m carrying,” my heart does a happy dance. What if we incentivized that behavior?

New York’s ban on plastic bags goes into effect on March 2020, but it really only applies to larger retailers (stores with at least 10,000 sq feet or chains with at least five locations with greater than 5,000 sq feet). Garment bags are exempt (there are actually a few exemptions like, “bags used solely to contain a newspaper for delivery”). In an effort to encourage consumers to bring their own reusable bags, the law allows counties the option of placing a 5-cent fee on paper bags at check-out, with the fee being shared by the local government and the state’s Environment Protection Agency.

What if this fee was extended to garment bags too? Or for that matter, any excessive branding materials in the same vein? What if we extended our inspection of how our clothes were made, to include what they come in? What if companies shifted the energy spent on branding a free tote towards something a little more impactful?


image featured from Ellis Rosen's New Yorker article, Tote-Bag-Culture Etiquette. Published on 01/07/2018