Shop gives customers embarrassing plastic bags in bid to change behaviour

‘Wart Ointment Wholesale’ is among the slogans on a Canadian store’s single-use bags

If concern over the climate crisis or revulsion over the contamination of the food chain are not enough to change consumer behaviour, one grocery store is hoping that another emotion may persuade people to shun single-use plastic bags: shame.

Customers who don’t bring their own bags to the East West Market in Vancouver will instead have to carry their purchases home in bags with slogans like “Wart Ointment Wholesale” and “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium”.

David Lee Kwen, the shop’s owner, insisted that the plan wasn’t to embarrass customers. “We wanted to give them something humorous, but also something that made them think at the same time,” he told the Guardian. “It’s human nature not to want to be told what to do.”

Mr Kwen initially hoped that a fee on single-use bags would discourage their use. But when a charge of 5 cent a bag failed to stop people using plastic, he tried a different approach.


“We wanted to give them something humorous, but also something that made them think at the same time,” said David Lee Kwen, the shop’s owner.

The bags are meant to force customers to think twice about consumption habits. In a social media post, the store pointed out that millions of plastic bags are used once before being discarded – and are part of the growing problem of plastic waste.

Deluge of plastics

Like countries across the world, Canada is grappling with a deluge of plastics which cannot be recycled and instead end up in landfills.

Earlier this week, Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, announced plans to ban single-use plastics in 2021, including grocery bags, plastic cutlery and straws.

Mr Kwen admits there has been an unintended consequence to the bags: “Some of the customers want to collect them because they love the idea of it,” he said. But he still believes the plan is working. “Even if you have the bag, you have to explain its origin to your friends. And then, we’ve started a conversation.”

The bags, which Mr Kwen has run in limited numbers of 1,000, cost customers 5 cent. It cost extra for him to print the new bags, so he’s hopeful customers instead opt to bring in their own.

In the meantime, he plans to transfer the images on the plastic bags to canvas bags. “It’s a double-edged sword. We wanted to address an issue, but we’ve also made something popular, so it’s turned out great.” – Guardian