A Canadian Store Tried to Bag-Shame Its Customers. Nice Try.

A Canadian store’s attempt to help the environment and gently shame its customers into avoiding plastic bags by printing embarrassing messages on them has not gone quite as planned.

Far from spurring customers to bring their own reusables, the plastic bags — variously emblazoned with “Dr. Toews’ Wart Ointment Wholesale,” “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium” or “The Colon Care Co-Op” — have become somewhat of a surprise hit.

“Some of the customers want to collect them because they love the idea of it,” David Lee Kwen, the owner of the store, Vancouver’s East West Market, told The Guardian newspaper.

The store began the campaign this month, printing up 1,000 bags with the eye-popping slogans. Shoppers who chose to use a plastic carrier would not only be charged 5 cents apiece, they would theoretically walk out onto the street with the cringe-worthy messages for all the world to see.

The review encouraged the store to change its ways. “Come on guys, be sustainable and quit using plastic if you don’t have to. It’s gross,” the reviewer wrote.

The store’s latest campaign to get customers involved drew reaction on social media, but probably not what it expected.

“I would 100 percent not use reusable bags, just to see which awesome bag I get next,” one commenter wrote on Facebook.

“Now that the entire region knows they are purposefully embarrassing, I’m even more inclined to get one. I might even buy extra bags to give to people,” a Twitter user said.

Another person denounced the campaign on Twitter, writing, “This is not a good idea, unless you want to sell more plastic bags!”

Efforts to reach the owner of East West Market on Wednesday were not immediately successful.

Although the store’s campaign went awry, Paul Foulkes-Arellano, a member of an anti-plastic pollution campaign group, A Plastic Planet, explained that the backfire was actually a “great piece of anti-plastic P.R.” because it caught the public’s attention.

“These sorts of initiatives which strike a chord with consumers and are shared millions of times have a huge effect on big businesses,” he said. “It keeps the topic being discussed in boardrooms and it spurs them on to reduce plastic from their supply chain.”

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