Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

How A Grocery Store’s Plan To Shame Customers Into Using Reusable Bags Backfired

Photo caption:

Photo by Courtesy of East West Market

The East West Market in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, offered single-use plastic bags with embarrassing slogans to encourage customers to utilize reusable bags.

Public shame.

That's the tactic one Canadian grocery store used to get customers to ditch single-use plastics and instead utilize reusable shopping bags.

Shoppers who didn't bring in their own bags to the East West Market in Vancouver left with groceries in bags that read "Wart Ointment Wholesale," "Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium," or "The Colon Care Co-Op."

For store owner David Kwen, the bags evolved out of wanting to bring more awareness to reducing consumption — in a humorous way.

Kwen printed the eyebrow-raising slogans on the bags with the assumption that people would be embarrassed to carry them, he tells Here & Now's Robin Young. In a post on Instagram, the market said, "It's hard to always remember a reusable bag. We redesigned our plastic bags to help you never forget again!"

But the scheme backfired.

People began flocking to the market, paying 5 cents each in hopes of collecting the designs.

Although the bags were meant to force customers to think twice about their plastic consumption use — smaller text on the bags read "Avoid the shame. Bring a reusable bag" — Kwen wasn't defeated by the attention his plan got.

"The underlying thing is that it creates conversation, and that's what we actually wanted to get across to the general public," he says.

He decided to capitalize on all the excitement by giving his idea an eco-friendly spin. East West Market will soon have canvas tote bags with the humorous designs printed on the front.

And now is the perfect time for Kwen to promote a message of sustainability. Less than 10% of plastic used in Canada gets recycled. Canadians will throw away an estimated $8.3 billion worth of plastic materials each year by 2030 without a change in course, the government said in a statement. Following in the footsteps of the European Union, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in early June that Canada will ban single-use plastics as early as 2021.

In his personal efforts, Kwen still believes in using comedy to hammer the point home.

"If you talk to people in a nice, humorous way, I think they listen," Kwen says.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

FEATURED PODCAST

San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Curious San Diego banner

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.