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Bottom Line: Hanover Co-op’s famed plastic bags are about to check out

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 1/11/2020 10:13:08 PM
Modified: 1/11/2020 10:12:25 PM

Say a fond farewell — or good riddance, depending on your view — to the Hanover Co-op’s plastic shopping bag.

At the end of the month, the Co-op will cease to make available its durable plastic shopping bag that many customers have cherished for handy-dandy home uses, from lining wastepaper baskets to carrying out the kitty litter.

The move, announced last year, is happening slightly ahead of the spring target date the Co-op had initially set and comes as lawmakers in both New Hampshire and Vermont have been moving to curb their use among retailers.

“People say ‘We love your bags.’ We do, too,” said Co-op spokesperson Allan Reetz. “But it’s time.”

Beginning Feb. 1, only paper bags, boxes (by request) and reusable shopping bags will be allowed at the Co-op’s four markets in Lebanon, Hanover and White River Junction. Any Co-op plastic bags left in stock at the end of the month will be donated to Listen and the Haven.

Like a lot of retail business, the Co-op is trying to be a good environmental citizen and reduce its reliance upon plastic that eventually ends up in landfills. Plastic bags are especially insidious for the environment because they cannot be recycled into other products like plastic bottles and containers can.

The transition will be a big one for both the Co-op and its customers: About half the people walking out the door still opt for plastic bags. The store has been going through some 1.25 million plastic bags annually in recent years, and customers have favored them by a 5-to-1 ratio over paper bags. The plastic bag bill comes to about $77,000 annually.

(Paper bags, at a cost of 19 cents each, are more than twice the cost of plastic bags, which cost 7 cents apiece. The Co-op used 243,000 paper bags in 2018, the most recent year for which it had a number).

In addition to the familiar reusable green Co-op shopping bag that has been available for several years, the Co-op has begun selling a reusable bag made from recycled “blue wrap” material collected from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center that the hospital uses as sterilization packaging for medical instruments and supplies. The reusable blue bags normally cost about $5 but from Jan. 23 to Feb. 11 will be discounted on sale for $3.49.

Under a new law slated to take effect in July, Vermont retailers will be prohibited from providing customers with single-use plastic bags at checkout, but will be able to offer paper carryout bags for 10 cents apiece.

Show and teller time at Ledyard Bank

Thousands of local bank branches across the country — including several in the Upper Valley — have closed in recent years as routine banking transactions have shifted online. So it is a bit unusual when a new branch opens. And the new branch that Ledyard National Bank plans to open on South Main Street in Concord later this year could be a preview of what bank branches probably will look like in the future.

Traditional banking in New England is a slow- to no-growth sector of the economy as the population ages and even declines in rural communities and young adults often apply for a mortgage — the lifeblood of community banks — through an app on their phone from the likes of LendingTree or Quicken Loans. The prospect of a free toaster to open a new savings or checking account is no longer an inducement for depositors.

Ledyard believes traditional retail bank branches can still have an edge, however, if they employ technology to make it more convenient for customers to access their services.

The centerpiece of Ledyard’s new retail branch will be an “interactive ATM machine” that will allow bank customers to transact all the business they normally would at the drive-up window by allowing the customer to video conference live with a bank associate on the other end. That functionality. explains Ledyard CEO Kathy Underwood, “gives us the ability to extend our service hours in the community and to make it more convenient beyond just depositing and getting a check.”

“It’s like FaceTime,” Underwood said.

The two-way video and voice technology will mean that the Ledyard banker can be located anywhere within the company and is not tied to the Concord branch, giving the bank more flexibility in how it deploys staff. At 1,200 square feet, Ledyard’s Concord branch will be considerably smaller than a typical bank branch but will provide all the regular services found at other locations, including serving commercial accounts.

The interactive ATM will also operate with expanded hours, so Ledyard can capture commuters on their way into work or returning home in the evening.

Although new technology tends to displace workers — think self-checkout lanes at the supermarket — Underwood says that will not necessarily be the case at Ledyard.

“It doesn’t replace people because we are still going to need to have actual people on the other side of the screen,” she said.

The new branch comes three years after Ledyard expanded into Concord by opening a wealth management office with a group of investment advisers who left Charter Trust Co. Underwood said the new interactive ATMs will begin to appear at other Ledyard branches in the Upper Valley later in the year as the bank rolls out a remodeling program.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.




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