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Local creates ‘biodegradable’ bags

FORT FRANCES—While reusable shopping bags are becoming more common, most of them are not as environmentally-friendly as people may think—often being made from recycled plastic and only good for an estimated 10 uses before they have to be thrown away.

But Mark McKelvie, who has worked at Upholstery Works in Fort Frances with his wife and business owner, Kim, for the past 25 years, has come up with a reusable, all-purpose biodegradable bag which he calls “a long-term investment for you and the environment.”

The bags recently went on sale at local businesses, including Betty’s, The Place, J.N. Webb and Sons Wholesale, and the Christmas Store, with several others still considering selling them.

“Everybody wants to go plastic-free. But all, or most of the new bags on the market, are made of plastic. Polypropylene is plastic,” stressed McKelvie, who makes no bones about being an environmentalist.

“It’s an illusion being pulled on the public again. We’re still dealing with the hazard of plastic,” he argued. “Yes, they’re made of recycled plastic—but we’re still dealing with plastic.

“Plastic isn’t the answer.

“My product has no plastic in it, it’s presented with no plastic. There’s no plastic wrapper. The tag is held on with a piece of hemp,” he added.

Made from 100 percent cotton fabric, McKelvie’s double-stitched bags are pre-shrunk, water-repellent, and machine washable in cold water. They are available in green and tan, and measure 30 cm in height by 30 cm in length by 18 cm in width.

McKelvie noted these dimensions are the same as traditional brown paper bags, but these bags have handles and can be filled with many items with no risk of tearing.

“Like my dad commented, you throw whatever you want in these bags and set them down, and they stay upright because of the width of the base,” he remarked, adding his father, Fred, suggested using the same dimensions as a brown paper bag.

McKelvie has kept the look of the bags simple and not put any logo on them.

“There’s no advertising on the bag. People can do their own thing with it, put their own names on it, whatever they want,” he noted. “Any companies I have them presented at, I ask them to keep their logos small if they get them put on the bag.”

McKelvie said the plain appearance is a selling point as some people may feel conscientious using a bag with a particular store’s logo on it while shopping at a competing business, and may even buy bags with a particular logo on it just to use it at that specific business.

But with McKelvie’s “universal” bags, people can save themselves the cost of getting different bags for each store they shop at.

McKelvie’s reusable bags range in price from $8-$10, depending on where they’re sold. While this cost is higher than reusable bags sold at other places in town, McKelvie noted those other bags not only contain plastics, but wear out over time.

His product, on the other hand, is 100 percent cotton and built to last.

Over time, you’ll save money—and prevent plastic waste—by buying McKelvie’s bags.

While many people may be aware that plastic waste is not biodegradable, they may be surprised how many plastic bags are given out locally to customers and likely end up in the landfill.

Craig Sanders, owner of The Place and 364 Store, reported that between both his stores an average of 5,000 plastic bags are given out to customers on a weekly basis, and he estimated Canada Safeway has a volume of four times the customers.

Saunders said that as a business owner, customers using reusable bags would be a cost-savings to him. At three cents a bag, it costs him about $125 a week to pay for plastic bags. Over a year, that adds up to $6,500.

Of course, it’s not just a problem here, and grocery stores across Canada are trying to reduce or eliminate plastic bags. For example, some retailers are charging customers a deposit that is refunded when customers bring their bags back to the store, while others are flat-out making customers pay for plastic bags.

“We’re looking at the whole thing and trying to figure out where to go,” said Sanders, adding that reusable bags like McKelvie’s provide an alternative.

“Anything that get those (plastic) bags out of the landfill is a good thing,” he remarked.

That said, Sanders noted the only problem with reusable bags is getting the public in the habit of bringing them to the grocery store each and every time.

McKelvie noted that making the conversion to using reusable bags is a reasonable goal—after all, in parts of Europe, everyone brings their own bags to grocery stores.

McKelvie said his bags have been used by friends and family this past year, and have passed the test as far as wear and tear goes.

So far he’s made about 120 reusable bags—many of which are for sale at the above locations, and about two dozen of which he’s given out for people to try for themselves.

“That’s the best sales pitch—for individuals to try them and tell their friends, ‘This bag is awesome,’” McKelvie remarked, adding he believes in the power of “word of mouth.”

Looking further down the road, McKelvie said he has a few irons in the fire and it’s possible his reusable bags may see an even wider market through Internet marketing—or possibly by being picked up by a chain of stores.

He’s also looking at launching a line of “up the lake” bags next spring made out of a boat topping material. These will be more rigid than the cotton reusable bags he currently has for sale locally.

(Fort Frances Times)

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