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Cuyahoga County offering grants to reduce plastic bag waste

Friday, 10/03/2023

319 million plastic bags are used in Cuyahoga County each year, yet only 1% of them are recycled, leaving more than 315 million bags to overflow landfills or litter neighborhood streets.

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In an effort to give local shops the money they need to gradually stop using plastic bags in their stores, the county launched Sustainable Store Grants in February with the help of the Departments of Sustainability and Consumer Affairs.

“This is a way for them to take their first sustainable action, or perhaps this is just another step in their journey,” Program Officer with the Department of Consumer Affairs Katharyne Starinsky said, “but it gives a small store who may have… limited marketing funds, limited bandwidth to be able to… implement new programs -- this grant will give them that leg up.”

According to Starinsky, Cuyahoga County has received $200,000 in money from the American Rescue Plan Act that is available to support nearby businesses.

For as long as the objective is to stop using plastic bags in their businesses, locally owned, independent, employee-owned, or franchise retail stores in Cuyahoga County are qualified to receive up to $5,000 in reimbursement grant cash per store location.

This can involve using signs and posters to encourage people to use reusable bags or buying paper bags as a temporary substitute for plastic bags. Retailers are also permitted to submit their own, unique project ideas to the county.

“We wanted to make sure that this was a grant that could be customized for the business and for the customer needs in each community throughout the county,” Starinsky said. “So, we have a ‘propose your own project’ option as well.”

Stores that receive grant funding and stores who have already made transition from plastic bags to reusable ones will be featured on the Cuyahoga County website through a “Sustainable Store” map.

“If you are a plastic bag-free store, please reach out, let me know, and we will make sure that they get on the map because we want to celebrate these actions,” Starinsky said.

Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags to Sustainable Stores as part of the county’s BYOBags Initiative. 

“We are using the grant as an opportunity for businesses to incentivize customers to bring in their reusable bags,” Starinsky said, “because what that does is it not only creates a bit of a partnership there between customer and retailer, but it also creates an opportunity to educate the customer.”

For shoppers, Starinsky said she recommends purchasing reusable bags or reusing plastic bags when going on shopping trips.

“If you're a customer and you're going out for your shopping trip, we recommend that you bring a reusable bag that you may already have at home,” she said. “Make it a habit like grabbing your wallet and keys.”

Reusable shopping bags are available from a range of sources, such as secondhand shops and other nearby merchants, according to Starinsky. Also, the county has so far issued 48,500 reusable bags as part of the #BYOBags campaign. 

Changes implemented through the grant program will benefit both retailers and consumers, Starinsky said, while limiting plastic bag waste in the county.

“This is really a multi-pronged approach here,” she said. “This grant, we get money from retailers and then the consumers are also getting a lot of education and information as to how they can participate in sustainable action.”

The county is accepting grant applications through March 15. Retailers with concerns or questions about the application process are encouraged to reach out to Stravinsky directly.


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