Customers leave Ikea's 29 US stores every day with housewares and assemble-it-yourself furniture, but the Swedish home furnishings retailer wants to see shoppers walk out with one less thing: a plastic bag.
Ikea announced on Tuesday that it would start charging customers US$0.05 for every plastic bag they use to carry their purchases. The proceeds from the surcharge will go to an environmental conservation group.
"We really feel the timing is right," said Pernille Lopez, president of Ikea North America.
"It's a small step, but we feel it's good for us as a company, and it reduces our impact on the environment," she said.
Ikea's US stores went through 70 million plastic bags last year -- and officials want to cut that in half over the first year of the "bring your own bag" policy.
That would equate to about 1.5 million trees being planted -- an idea that got a favorable response from customers Ikea surveyed, Lopez said.
Proceeds from the surcharge will go to the nonprofit group American Forests to plant trees, with dual goals of restoring forests and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, she said.
Ikea also will sell its reusable bags for US$0.59, down from the current US$0.99, for customers who forget to bring their own.
The intention is to essentially eliminate the use of plastic bags. Ikea implemented the bag charge last June across Britain, and the company anticipates more than a 90 percent drop in disposable bag use within the first year.
"The majority of people we talk to are quite supportive and really think it's a good idea," Lopez said.
Environmental groups say plastic bags waste valuable oil resources, release toxins when burned, and contribute to global warming because of the energy required to produce them.
Bags littering the oceans also kill sea turtles and other marine animals that mistake them for food.
Americans discarded millions of tonnes of low- and high-density polyethylene bags, sacks, and wraps in 2005, a report by the US Environmental Protection Agency has said.
Only 5.2 percent of those were recovered for recycling, the agency said.
Other US businesses, including the no-frills Aldi supermarket chain and warehouse clubs like Costco, charge for disposable bags.
The National Retail Federation, an industry group, was not aware of any other large national retailer that has a plastic bag fee.
Some grocery chains do provide incentives like discounts and shopping spree raffles to customers who bring their own bags, spokesman Scott Krugman said.
Several countries currently either surcharge or outright ban throwaway plastic bags, including Taiwan, Ireland, Australia, Singapore, South Africa and Bangladesh.
In Ireland, their use plummeted 90 percent after a US$0.20 per bag "plastax" started in 2002, raising millions of dollars for environmental programs.
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