Cambridge laws have eliminated disposable plastic bag and added a minimum 10-cent fee for brown bags at grocery store. Some of that money is finding its way back to the community.  (Photo: Leon Brocard)

Cambridge laws have eliminated disposable plastic bag and added a minimum 10-cent fee for brown bags at grocery store. Some of that money is finding its way back to the community. (Photo: Leon Brocard)

The elimination of free bags at Cambridge stores three months ago came with some complications and concerns, but officials say retailers and customers are getting used to the change, and at least one city nonprofit is seeing a big benefit.

The CitySprouts organization, which builds gardens and adds garden-based lessons at public schools in its Cambridge hometown and Boston, will get a check for a little over $13,000 at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Whole Foods Markets on Prospect Street – money the chain’s three Cambridge stores earned in the first five weeks of the bag law.

“We wanted this opportunity to put money back into a project that really helps Cambridge,” said Matt Keller, a local spokesman for the company. “We’re extremely happy to be able to give back.”

Andrea Locke, the community relations coordinator for CitySprouts, said last week that though the organization knew the donation was coming, “the amount was a surprise.”

Law effects

The law, which went into effect March 31, aims to help the environment by getting rid of disposable plastic bags at store checkouts. Stores can sell paper bags for at least 10 cents and encourage customers to buy or bring reusable bags. City councillors gave their okay last week to a program encouraging businesses to give back in various ways, with Leland Cheung – who proposed the idea in April – saying he could imagine seeing the money going toward environmental protection; into a community benefits fund to be disbursed among nonprofits; or toward giving people canvas bags to replace the plastic bags they can no longer get for free when shopping. A letter explaining the program was to go out to local businesses and business organizations by the end of last week.

More than 7,000 reusable bags have been distributed to Cantabrigians already, said Owen O’ Riordan, commissioner of the city’s Department of Public Works, and 4,400 are being gathered for distribution. Most are going directly to people served by the Cambridge Housing Authority and to the agency’s offices. Many have gone to food pantries and and to local charities such as Homeowners Rehabilitation Inc. and Just-A-Start.

Whole Foods Market has also been a leader in donating reusable bags, O’ Riordan reported. The chain has given the city 1,600 to be handed out, followed by donations of 1,500 from the Boston Convention Center, 600 from Star Market and 300 from the Medieval Academy of America, an organization for medieval studies that is based on Dunster Street.

Amount could dwindle

The $13,000 donation is being done independently of the city’s program, and is not the first time the grocery store chain has contributed to CitySprouts. It gave an even bigger donation last fall as part of its “5% Day” events, when some proceeds from a given day of sales goes to a local nonprofit. According to the latest CitySprouts annual report, the Whole Foods Market donation coming Tuesday represents just over 2 percent of the organization’s revenue of $519,000 last year.

“Any amount helps,” Locke said. “We’re still in the process of figuring out where to allocate the funds.”

Whole Foods Market shoppers knew from signs posted in the stores that their bag fees would go to CitySprouts, Keller said, but it was unclear whether the amount of money going to nonprofits in the future – the Transition House domestic violence shelter is the next to benefit – would dwindle as shoppers became more used to the law and bought fewer bags. The only other location charging for bags now is in Portland, Maine.

The bag laws and fees are spreading, though. Somerville officials voted in a bag ordinance in November, and stores of 10,000 square feet or more – such as the Whole Foods Market on Beacon Street – will introduce the chance in August. Smaller stores will see the change in December.