Feb 172008
Authors: Shannon Hurley

In an effort to reduce plastic bag use and promote environmental consciousness, the CSU Bookstore plans to offer students reusable bags made from retired military parachutes beginning in the fall semester.

“I would like to see us reduce the number of shopping bags that we use,” said Bookstore director John Parry.

After reading an article last November in the Northern Colorado Business Report about a local woman who makes reusable bags out of recycled, retired military parachutes, Parry saw an opportunity for Bookstore consumers to reduce their amount of disposable bag use.

“He called me as soon as he finished reading it,” said Diana Straub of Bellvue, owner of Sew Natural and creator of the reusable parachute bags.

“I was pretty excited about it,” Parry said. “I’m not a real big-time recycler, eco-friendly guy, but I do what I think is my part and make sure that I’m taking advantage of things.”

And although the plastic bags’ cost to the Bookstore is rather insignificant, the environmental impact resulting from the large volume of purchases each semester is not an issue often considered.

“We currently buy about 110,000 plastic shopping bags ever year,” Parry said. “Even if we go from 110,000 to 50,000 than we’ve made progress.”

Straub, whose daughter, Kellie Falbo, is executive director of the Rocky Mountain Sustainable Living Association, first produced these recycled bags for last September’s Sustainable Living Fair, where 250 were sold for $15 to attendees.

“We wanted something that was organic or used,” Straub said. “This was perfect.”

Straub purchases the parachutes from a local outdoor retailer for about $60. She estimates that she can make 80 bags from one parachute. All supplies are acquired locally. The material, however, makes the bags creation a bit labor-intensive.

“It doesn’t take that long to make but I have to cut the parachute,” she said, “Get everything off of it, and then I have to cut it into sections that I can work with, and iron it.”

Her efforts have paid off as she now produces numerous parachute bag styles, ranging from a grocery bag design to a messenger bag.

Parry points to the weight and size of most textbooks as an obstacle to the Bookstore’s bag options. “We actually have to buy a shopping bag that, for good or for bad, is heavier than you generally see at a grocery store,” he said.

No problem for the parachute material of Sew Natural’s bags Straub said, as they have rip-stop. “It will puncture, but it won’t rip,” she said.

Parry was indeed impressed. “We loaded it with four textbooks and bounced it up and down to see what would happen and it’s just amazing how strong that is,” he said.

The Bookstore anticipates selling a couple styles on the sales floor as well as online for about $15 this fall.

“The thought was to start with the incoming freshman class with the textbook reservation service,” Parry said, “From what I’ve seen, this [bag] will last without any problem for four years.”

The main problem lies in student acceptance, as the Bookstore has not previously been successful in selling natural or recycled products, particularly because of their often higher cost.

“If there’s a cost involved, or if it’s difficult, we’re still seeing some resistance,” Parry said.

One such example was the so-called “green book,” a blue book made from recycled materials. “Because it was different there was resistance to it and we no longer sell that particular product,” he said.

As states across the country begin to implement taxes or fees for plastic bag consumption, Straub and Parry remain optimistic about their contribution to the CSU community’s environmental impact.

“We’re trying to figure out how we fit in to that picture,” Parry said. “If we could get to the point where students just put [purchases] in their backpack on the way out, that’s great.”

“I just hope that it gives people the idea that it’s fun to do this,” Straub added.

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