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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Grocery shoppers off base will soon be saving money by bringing their own bags.

A recent three-month study by supermarkets in Naha showed that by charging customers 2 to 5 yen for a plastic bag, more people brought their own, thus saving stores money and also saving energy and helping the environment.

The study, conducted September through November at six supermarkets resulted in changes in shopper habits, said Satoko Shimada, chief of Naha’s Zero Emissions Promotion Office.

Results at various stores saw 30 percent to 85 percent of the shoppers bringing their own bags, she said. Previously, less than 17 percent of shoppers brought their own bags.

“It saved about 1.87 million bags in total,” Shimada said. “The total weight of the saved bags was 10.87 tons, saving the 5,254 gallons of petroleum that would have been used to make the bags.”

Also, 65.22 tons of carbon dioxide emissions were reduced, representing what would have been used in making and then burning the bags, she said.

Supermarkets and other major stores then formed a committee led by the Okinawa prefectural government to discuss when and how to introduce a charge on plastic shopping bags.

Several stores decided to continue charging for the bags once the study was over, but Okiniawa officials Monday did not have a date to when all supermarkets will start charging.

But don’t look for an end to free plastic bags at base commissaries.

“We highly recommend customers bring in their own bags,” said Rene Francisco, director of the Defense Commissary Activity store on Kadena Air Base. “But we’re not going to charge for the bags we use.”

He said health concerns prevented the commissaries from recycling bags.

“We could not be sure they were not contaminated in some way,” he said.

DECA began a drive in 2006 to urge stateside commissary shoppers to use paper bags, but stores overseas continue to rely on plastic because it’s cheaper to transport.

Francisco said many supermarkets in the States now charge for plastic bags. And last March, San Francisco became the first city to place a total ban on the use of plastic bags.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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