Alberta Cancer Foundation

Bags to Riches

Being environmentally conscious is an important choice for many people, and Calgary Co-op has found a way to encourage its customers to be “green,” while supporting the community at the same time. From July to September, Co-op is donating money raised through its annual Bags to Riches program to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

The Bags to Riches program provides a three-cent credit per reused plastic, paper or tote bag, which customers can apply to their grocery purchase, or donate to a designated charity. “Calgary Co-op launched its Bags to Riches program in the early 1990s to encourage shoppers to re-use and recycle their plastic shopping bags,” says Cindy Drummond, communications manager for Calgary Co-op.

Three cents may not seem like a lot of money to donate to charity, but it adds up. In 2009, Co-op raised $36,000 for local charities through the program. The funds from Calgary stores stay in the community. Stores in Airdrie and Strathmore also participate, and funds are donated to the food banks and crisis centre in those communities.

To further create a sense of community, employees play a role in deciding which charities benefit. “Each year, employees select four local charities from a list of charities we create and send to them,” Drummond says.

“Charities can be placed on this list at their request by submitting an application to us for consideration, or at the request of employees. The Tom Baker Cancer Centre is one of the charities selected most often by employees.” In addition to being a diagnosis and treatment facility, the Tom Baker Cancer Centre offers counselling and support services for patients and their families.

Drummond said Bags to Riches began as an environmental initiative long before the current debates about using plastic shopping bags. Calgary Co-op has been an active contributor to a number of “green” initiatives for years, she says, and this program also provides customers the opportunity to give back to organizations in their community.

Eric Kilmury, centre manager of the Rocky Ridge Calgary Co-op, says staff prides itself on the Bags to Riches program. “They want, and encourage, customers to bring their reusable bags in,” Kilmury says. “Once the customers knew we were a distribution centre for this program, the response was overwhelming, even after the promotion was over.”

Calgary Co-op shopper Larry Patterson has been shopping at Co-op for about a year, and his wife has been a member for more than 15 years. “I like being able to have a charity benefit from my decision to be environmentally responsible and bring my reusable shopping bag,” says Patterson. “Supporting local charities makes it attractive. I would not be willing to have the support leave the Calgary area.”

Other charities receiving support from the program include the Calgary Humane Society, STARS and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. So, remember to pack those reusable bags next time you head out for groceries.

For more information about Bags to Riches, visit