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This Grocery Store Shames Customers With Embarrassing Plastic Bags

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East West Market

Forget your reusable bag at Vancouver's East West Market and you will walk out telling the world you're into some kinky stuff, the Guardian reports.


Customers who use a bag from the store will leave toting their purchase in humorous and kitschy plastic bags emblazoned with embarrassing, fake store names, such as "Dr. Toews' Wart Ointment Wholesale," "Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium" or "The Colon Care Co-op."

"Over 1 million plastic bags are used every minute, most of which are filled once, then discarded. So, we redesigned our bags to stop people from taking them, helping customers remember a reusable bag and think twice about single-use plastic," the store wrote in a Facebook video for the new bags

David Lee Kwen, owner of the store that specializes in natural, organic, and fair trade products, insisted that the bags are not intended to shame his customers. "We wanted to give them something humorous, but also something that made them think at the same time," he said to the Guardian.

In smaller print, the bags mention the campaign's aim: "Avoid the shame. Bring a reusable bag." The New York Times reported.

If the intention was to shame its customers, it has backfired. The bags have become a hit since the campaign started last week, when it printed 1,000 bags with the cringe worthy fake stores.

"Some of the customers want to collect them because they love the idea of it," Kwen said to the Guardian. Yet, he sees a positive. "Even if you have the bag, you have to explain its origin to your friends. And then, we've started a conversation."

Vancouver requires businesses to either eliminate plastic and paper bags or to charge a five-cent fee for a bag. Kwen chose the second option.

"We moved to a 5-cent fee as a way to discourage customers from taking them, however, we still saw customers who would forget their reusable bags or not give the 5-cent charge a second thought," Kwen told VICE. "We thought this would be a humorous approach that would get their attention, and make them think about a behavior that can easily become a habit."

While the plastic bags are in a limited run, there success has inspired Kwen to print the fake stores on canvas bags.

The plastic campaign coincides with Justin Trudeau's government announcement that Canada will ban single-use plastics in two years. He highlighted plastic bags as a major part of an environmental crisis.

"To be honest, as a dad it is tough trying to explain this to my kids. How do you explain dead whales washing up on beaches across the world, their stomachs jam packed with plastic bags?" Trudeau said on Monday, as National Geographic reported. "How do I tell them that against all odds, you will find plastic at the very deepest point in the Pacific Ocean?"

Canadians use nearly 700 plastic bags a year per person and only 11 percent of all plastics are recycled in Canada, according to figures by Plastic Oceans Foundation Canada. By comparison, shoppers in Denmark only use four plastic bags a year on average, according to National Geographic.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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