With a Town Campaign for Sustainability, Some Retailers Already Have a Head Start

Matthew Hersh

It's no coincidence that the eco-mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" is not only somewhat catchy, but arranges its ideals in level of importance.

As such, it's also no coincidence that more and more area retailers are doing more than recycling products, but finding ways to encourage customers to first "reduce," and then "reuse."

From offering customer incentive to reuse bags and bottles, to simply creating a resilient product that represents a shrewd marketing scheme, it seems that more shoppers, particularly in Princeton's food retail establishments, are looking for ways to reduce excess trash while promoting environmentally-healthy aims.

At McCaffrey's in the Princeton Shopping Center, the look of reducing excess trash is, quite literally, on display. Like many supermarkets, McCaffrey's encourages shoppers to purchase canvas shopping bags for a nominal price, reducing the number of plastic bags taken by shoppers, thus reducing the amount of truck exhaust involved in shipping those plastic bags to the retailer, thus … you get the idea.

"The more people who use the canvas bags, the better," said Anthony Caggiano, McCaffrey's grocery manager. "But overall, people are becoming more conscious of the environment and what they can do, on an everyday basis, to improve it.

"We started selling bags a long time ago, but it's really begun to catch on in the last year or so," Mr. Caggiano said, quipping that "maybe we were a little bit ahead of our time in the conservation movement."

But Mr. Caggiano is quick to point out that while the supermarket wanted to encourage bag reduction, the movement was also a response to customer demand. "People were asking for this. Our customers know what they're doing."

Of course, recycling is not completely out. McCaffrey's bundles all of its cardboard for recycling, as well as used plastic shopping bags that customers bring in to the store for disposal.

McCaffrey's is not alone. Whole Earth Center on Nassau Street has long encouraged customers to reuse bags and bottles when shopping. Like McCaffrey's, Whole Earth offers reusable bags, and rewards customers with a small discount. The discount is less incentive-based because it's only a few cents, but Whole Earth manager Jennifer Murray said that no matter the discount, customers get excited when they can take part in the small steps involved in reducing waste.

Whole Earth also sells mason jars at wholesale price ("so we don't make a profit off of them," Ms. Murray said) allowing customers use them for anything from peanut butter to honey to olive oil.

Of course, if you do have to take a paper shopping bag at Whole Earth, you also have the option of donating a few cents to -purchase a tree to be planted, or to help finance bike racks around town.

But by and large, "so many people are so great about bringing in their own bags that we often don't even need to urge them to do it," Ms. Murray said.

Environmental consciousness virtually preceded an initiative launched two years ago by a handful of members of the Princeton Environmental Commission, which has benefited in the last year from a $60,000 Building Livable Communities grant administered by the College of New Jersey's Municipal Land Use Center. As a result, a third of that grant has been used to contract with a Rutgers-based institute as part of a comprehensive effort to employ sustainable practices through education, physical development, and energy output, with the remaining money going toward education and implementation of a sustainable plan.

The Sustainable Princeton steering committee includes local organizations and businesses like the Whole Earth Center, as well as Princeton Regional Schools and Princeton Day School, the Borough Merchants for Princeton, Church & Dwight, and PNC Bank.

At present, roughly $10,000 is being used to conduct energy audits on all municipal and public school buildings.

Part of Sustainable Princeton's charge will also include an educational campaign to teach residents how to practice sustainable living on an everyday level. Many Princeton retailers, in the meantime, seem right on board with those aims.

Eric Nutt, public relations manager at Triumph Brewing Company, said part of reducing waste on the customer level is creating an exciting incentive. Triumph has long promoted the use of its half-gallon glass growlers as a reusable means to transport beer home from the pub, but Mr. Nutt said customers appreciate behind-the-scenes efforts as well. "We use local farmers whenever possible, and we use mostly post-consumer recyclable products.

"Do people need to be aware of that? Not necessarily, but the public here appreciates it, and we don't mind sharing that information," Mr. Nutt said.

In the meantime, as Sustainable Princeton gears up for its educational outreach campaign, keep in mind that while you're waiting to fill up that reusable glass growler with some Triumph brew, those fries you're munching on were fried in oil that will soon be converted to bio-diesel fuel.

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