Hannaford supermarket will give away an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 reusable tote bags at two stores in Augusta, and one in Winthrop, at the end of July as part of a push to wean more customers off paper and plastic bags.
Spokesman Mike Norton said combined, customers at all Hannaford locations already take home 12 to 15 percent of groceries sold in their own cloth bags, saving 54 million paper and plastic bags a year.
The company would like to see if it can get that figure higher.
Hannaford has done single-tote giveaways before, Norton said, but nothing so broad: three stores, bagging all groceries in totes, all week.
“This is definitely going to be fun and interesting to see how much our customers are going to respond,” he said.
State Sen. John Nutting, who last session proposed a plastic bag tax to encourage recycling, said the effort was “more than anybody else has tried.”
“When I had that bill, Hannaford was the first store that came forward to say, ‘You’re onto something, we need to work in this direction,'” he said.
Nutting’s bill eventually led to a working group that will come back to the Natural Resources Committee with a proposed goal in January. The Massachusetts Legislature also just passed a law with a goal to reduce plastic bag use 25 percent over five years, he said, “I think Maine can do better than that.”
Norton said Hannaford has taken bold steps in building its newest Augusta store to a number of environmental standards, such as using less energy and recycling construction debris. It’s a theme that it hopes customers continue when the store opens by bringing in reusable bags.
“At Cony Street, what’s to say we couldn’t reach as high as 50 percent?” Norton said.
The woven polyester totes, which usually retail for 99 cents, will be given away at Hannfords located on Cony Street and Whitten Road in Augusta, and at the new Hannaford in Winthrop for a week starting July 25.

It’s possible, if the effort is successful, that the free totes will be offered at Hannafords elsewhere, but no decisions have been made, Norton said.

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