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Cuyahoga County offering grants to local retailers in effort to reduce plastic bag waste

Reusable vinyl and paper shopping bags sitting on table top filled with groceries.
Billion Photos
Cuyahoga County wants shoppers to switch to reusable shopping bags, rather than plastic ones, to limit the amount of plastic bag waste in the county.

In Cuyahoga County, 319 million plastic bags are used each year, but only about 1% end up being recycled leaving more than 315 million bags filling landfills or littering local streets.

The county introduced Sustainable Store Grants in February through a collaboration with the Departments of Sustainability and Consumer Affairs, with support from the Solid Waste District, to provide local retailers with funds to phase out the use of plastic bags in their stores.

“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.”

Cuyahoga County has $200,000 in funding available to local stores through American Rescue Plan Act dollars allocated to the county, Starinsky said.

Locally owned, independent, employee-owned, or franchise retail stores located in Cuyahoga County are eligible to receive up to $5,000 in reimbursement grant funding per store location to support a variety of projects as long as the goal is to eliminate the use of plastic bags in their stores.

This can include promoting the use of reusable bags with signage and flyers, or investing in paper bags as a temporary alternative to plastic. The county also allows retailers to submit their own, original project ideas.

“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 can be purchased from a variety of places, including thrift stores and other local retailers, Starinsky said. The county also distributed 48,500 reusable bags so far through the #BYOBags initiative.

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 to 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.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.