It was two small children and a pair of crutches – not the environment – that first turned Suzette Bergeron to the idea of reusable grocery bags.

On crutches after surgery, with children in tow, Bergeron, who lives in Scarborough, got sick of struggling with multiple, slippery plastic bags containing a few items each, or handle-less paper bags. She quickly found she could throw a cloth bag over her shoulder and make it from store to car, and car to house, with a minimum of hassle.

“It was easier,” she explained. “(A cloth) bag would replace three plastic bags.”

That was about 10 years ago. Daughter Bella is now 12, and son Ben, 11. Bergeron said she continued using cloth bags for groceries after she got off her crutches, but she discovered they had their drawbacks. They were bulky. They didn’t wash well. And they weren’t particularly hip.

So Bergeron, already a successful entrepreneur, decided to find a bag that could take a beating and still look good, and be environmentally friendly to boot.

“I got a bunch and used, washed and researched it,” she said. “It was really important to me that if I came out with this new product, that I could really back it up.”

She ruled out cotton for its bulk, poor performance in the washing machine, and the amount of pesticides used to grow it. Heavy-duty plastic bags were also a bust.

“It just seemed contradictory to replace plastic with plastic,” she said.

After dozens of grocery trips and washes, Bergeron finally discovered her bag: a hemp/recycled plastic bottle blend made in fair labor factories overseas and imported by a New York City company. (Bergeron won’t reveal her supplier because she doesn’t want competitors ordering their own bags.) The bag is about the same size as a paper grocery bag, with two handles and a linen-like feel. She created her business, Bulletin Bag.

Bergeron immediately thought, “Advertisement!” That’s because Begeron, 39, is president of the Maine Marketing Association, a nonprofit organization that provides members ongoing marketing-related education and support. She also has a company she started in 2004, Funman Promotions, which sells items such pens, mugs and desk accessories that companies distribute to customers and staff.

“Usually the person who does the grocery shopping decides about what bank (a family) uses, what car they drive,” she explained. “(A reusable bag) might be hanging in your house, it might be in your car, but it’s something you’re going to use once a week.”

In other words, a reusable grocery bag is a prime way for an advertiser to get exposure, reaching not only the shopper and her family, but also everybody who sees the bag in use in the grocery store.

A bag, Bergeron realized, could do the same thing – providing a company with wide name exposure and touting the company as environmentally responsible.

“The whole concept of the bag is based on cooperative advertising,” she said.

Bags without company logos are on sale on Bergeron’s Web site,, but a free bag may soon be coming your way thanks to a variety of giveaways, beginning with a children’s design contest that will put Bulletin Bags in the hands of 1,000 children statewide. Children in Grades 3-7 are currently being invited to design a picture that will be printed on 1,000 bags; the bags, with sponsor information on the other side, will then be distributed to the first 1,000 entrants.

So far, Bergeron has signed on sponsors including Shaw’s supermarkets, Dole, Gorton’s seafood and Celestial Seasonings.

“It’s been really, really exciting,” Bergeron said. “I love this (project) because it brings together the two things in my life – my personal life and my (marketing experience).”

Fred Abaroa of Arundel, a Maine Marketing Association board member, has known Bergeron for years and is not surprised to see her signing on big-name sponsors.

“She’s a real go-getter, I’ll tell you, when she has her mind to something,” he said. “But before she sets out to do something, she really, really researches it.”

Although the bags just went on sale on the Web site a week ago, Abaroa got a sneak preview when Bergeron gave him a couple.

“I carry everything in them,” he said. “I put a whole bunch of books in there, plus my computer. I guess they do hold strong, I guess I am pretty happy with (the bag) if I am putting my computer in it.”

Rep. Theodore Koffman, D-Bar Harbor, has helped promote Bergeron’s contest as part of his own push to get 50 percent of Maine residents taking their own bags to the grocery store by Earth Day. He admits that’s an ambitious goal – he says currently about 5 to 10 percent do – but he said he hopes it makes people think twice about using disposable plastic bags.

“(I want people) to think about the amount of waste that plastic bags create – the amount of litter, the amount of landfill space,” he said. “If we’re beginning to see the last half of the oil that had been available 100 years ago and that second half is going to be more problematic (to extract and distribute), it seems to me to be frivolous … if you have an alternative to using oil…(not) to go to the alternative.”

Koffman said he hasn’t personally used a Bulletin Bag, but his wife was very impressed with the sample Bergeron sent him.

“My wife came down as I was making breakfast and she said, ‘Ahh, this is a really nice bag. It’s got a nice texture. You could make clothes out of this bag,'” he said.

Koffman said he hopes Bergeron’s contest will help get adults paying attention to their bag habits – if only because their children are.

“We have reason to think that children have influenced the success of the seatbelt campaign, the same with the smoking campaign,” he said. “Kids are open to environmental considerations, I think, and the extent to which they talk to their parents about those things, they could be helpful.”

Suzette Bergeron, of Scarborough, has created Bulletin Bags, reusable grocery bags made out of 67 percent hemp and 33 percent recycled soda bottles.

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