Boxes are stacked at Weavers Way Co-op for use by customers. (Photo by Lauren Witonsky)

by Lauren Witonsky

After purchasing locally grown produce from the Weavers Way Co-op, it’s hard to miss one of the main reasons that make this local grocery store unique – the boxes.

Instead of a stack of plastic bags at the end of the checkout line, you’ll find an array of cardboard boxes in which to carry home your groceries. This simple switch is one of the many ways the co-op encourages customers to recycle and “go green.”

The idea behind it is simple.

“Using the boxes is a simple way to recycle the use of the box again,” said General Manager Glenn Bergman. “This just increases the city’s level of recycling.”

Not only does this method prevent Weavers Way from having to stock and buy bags, it also reduces store trash.

Reusing boxes is also helping this cooperative organization save some change here and there. When shoppers use the boxes and then recycle them curbside, it’s less recycling in the store’s dumpster. Recycling at the Weavers Way Co-op is measured and charged by volume, which means that trash hauling isn’t cheap. When it comes down to it, the more boxes taken means the more money saved.

Although the reuse of boxes at the Weavers Way Co-op started on day one, the local grocery store hasn’t always had the contemporary charm it has today.

“It is important to remember that the co-op started as a buying club,” Bergman said. “People would put their orders in, and the volunteers would go and purchase the products in bulk and then divide up the orders into boxes for pick-up at Summit Church in Mt. Airy.”

This practice began during the summer and fall of 1972.

Once the recycling of boxes caught on, it stuck. Though the co-op has evolved and expanded over the years, more customers today are spotted toting their groceries in a recycled box.

“I do remember some shoppers saving their favorite box and bringing it with them to shop over and over,” said Norman Weiss, purchasing manager

The numbers add up. With 28,000 customer visits a month in Chestnut Hill, the co-op only sells about 3,100 bags during that time.

“I suspect the overwhelming majority of shoppers are either using boxes or bringing a [reusable] bag,” he said.

Bergman himself uses the co-op’s “box way of shopping.”

“I know I use the boxes for recycling my papers at home,” he said. “I often bring back the box and put it back up above the dairy case or at the front of the store in Chestnut Hill. I sometimes walk in with a few boxes nested and drop them off at the front of the store. I think many people prefer the box way of shopping. You can fit more and you can carry the box easily to the car.”

If that isn’t incentive enough, the co-op encourages its customers to nix the standard grocery bags by charging a 15-cent fee for a paper bag, while boxes are always free. Plastic bags, however, are a thing of the past.

“We are one of the only grocery stores in Philadelphia that do not provide any T-shirt plastic shopping bags,” Bergman said. “None, zero, nada – not on any order form of ours. Never have and never will.”

The ban on bags has already made its way over to the West Coast. Los Angeles is currently the biggest city in the country that bans free plastic bags in grocery stores. Bergman is eager to see this ban, not only at the co-op, but also in stores all over the city of Philadelphia.

“We are 100 percent in favor of banning plastic bags of all types in Philadelphia,” Bergman said, “We have worked to get City Council to pass such a bill, but someone out there is pressuring them to continue to allow plastic bags – a big mistake.”

Weiss appears more interested in banning all bags, plastic and paper, in an effort to reduce waste.

“I’m not sure plastic is better than paper,” he said. “There are many ingredients to analyze – resources used, energy to manufacture and distribute, political impacts (since plastic is a petroleum product), how many of each gets recycled, and the cost of recycling and disposal. Obviously the simplest, most sustainable choice is for people to bring a sturdy bag that gets used over and over, thousands of times.”