Beth Zeigler

One woman's quest to give away all the extra grocery bags she's collected

Beth Zeigler is a professional organizer in Los Angeles. Her clients tend to be affluent professionals in neighborhoods like Silver Lake, an east side enclave popular with up-and-coming musicians and film industry executives alike.

Sorting through their drawers and closets, Zeigler discovered an awkward irony: they were often awash with reusable bags, picked up for free at entertainment industry events or purchased on impulse at Whole Foods. Intended to reduce plastic waste, reusable bags were themselves becoming a burden. "They just build up, clogging drawers, cabinets and the other nooks and crannies where we shove them," she says.

Zeigler’s own local grocery store is a Safeway-owned Von’s in Echo Park, a neighborhood adjacent to Silver Lake with a much larger minority population and a lower median income ($38,000 compared to about $54,000).

At the Von's, there was the opposite problem. "There’s a stark contrast between Silver Lake and Echo Park," she says. "At Von’s you see people carrying one or two items out in a plastic bag." The reusable bags that are now de rigueur in an upscale market such as Whole Foods were not as prevalent in her own, less gentrified neighborhood.

So rather than throwing out her clients' surplus bags, Zeigler decided to collect as many as she could and then redistribute them to people who could use them.

Along with bags collected from her clients, Zeigler also set up seven "drop zones" where anyone can donate their extra reusable bags. One is at a yoga studio, another is at a vinyl record store—exactly the kinds of businesses that cater to her young, professional, bag-inundated clientele.

On Saturday, November 12, Zeigler will redistribute the collected bags for free at her local Von’s and a nearby Trader Joe’s store. Along with the bags she’ll be handing out tip sheets, in both English and Spanish, to help people get in the habit of using them. One example: "Keep a few in the car and if you need prompting, put a sticky note on the dash-board that says, 'take reusable bags into store.'"

Zeigler estimates she has between 1,400 and 1,600 bags at this point. And as her project has gained momentum, she’s been getting larger donations. The Green Bag Company just gave her 500 bags. There’s also been support from the community. A local artist designed Ziegler’s posters for free and Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti recently mentioned the event on his website.

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