Saving our planet; one bag at a time

November 19, 2007

We use billions of plastic bags we don’t need…

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 6:14 pm

A trillion plastic bags being thrown away

John Humphrys in this article in the Daily Mail asks why do we love waste? He tells how he went for a swim on the beach near his house in Greece only to find himself surrounded by all the plastic waste in the water. According to him a trillion bags are thrown away every minute around the world, 16 billion in Greece alone.

Read the original article here. I’ve also reproduced it below for your convenience. Read it. It makes immense sense.

Why do we love waste? We use billions of plastic bags we don’t need and bin food we never eat

By the time I arrived at my house in Greece, it was late in the evening after a long journey on one of the hottest days of the year.

In Greece, hot means very hot. It was pitch black - no more than a sliver of moon - but I stripped off anyway before I’d even unpacked my bags, rushed down to the sea and fell gratefully into the water. Or rather, I fell into the plastic.

As I discovered the following morning, the entire length of the beach and the water that laps the shingle was garlanded with a million strips of the stuff - almost all of it bits of shredded carrier bags. They had been carried to the shore by a freak change in the tide, way out in the Aegean.

That was two years ago. I thought about it again this week when it was announced that all 33 councils in London had voted for a new law to ban shops in the capital from handing out free plastic carrier bags. Dozens of other towns and cities are planning to do something similar.

Many are following the heroic example of Modbury in Devon where, last year, every shop-owner agreed to ban them. This great movement is catching on around the world, from California to Germany to Ireland. And about time too.

We may, at last, be seeing the beginning of the end of the free plastic carrier bag. Not that they’re really “free”, of course. Nothing is. Anything that costs the retailer money ultimately ends up on our bills. But the biggest cost is to the environment.

The fouling of my pristine beach in Greece is a minuscule example of the incalculable damage these handy little throwaways are doing to the world.

The reason is simple: there are too many of them. No one knows how many are given away on a global basis, but it’s been calculated at about a trillion a minute. In these small islands alone it is a staggering 13 billion every year. And they all have to go somewhere.

Many end up, one way or another, in landfill sites. That might be fine if we had an infinite number of holes in the ground or if the bags decayed after a few years. But we haven’t and they don’t.

Most are virtually indestructible. We use them on average for about 20 minutes and they survive as rubbish for centuries. So they end up everywhere - and I mean everywhere.

I have seen them hanging from trees in an African rainforest, frozen into the fresh ice of an Alaskan glacier and even littering the beach of one of the remotest corners of the world, the Tasmanian wilderness.

And those are just the ones we can see. There are billions in the world’s oceans, from the Arctic to the South Atlantic, eventually torn to shreds and often swallowed by mammals and birds. Marine conservationists estimate that they kill 100,000 whales, seals, dolphins and turtles every year.

A whale washed up on a beach in France had dozens of plastic bags tangled in its intestines, including two from British supermarkets. They are, in short, a menace - and not only for the obvious damage.

Because of its sheer ubiquity, the throwaway plastic carrier bag may be the most potent symbol there has ever been of a society that has lost sight of something with which earlier generations were rightly obsessed. Waste. We use the word lightly. We scatter our conversation with it. But it has lost its moral force. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Several years ago I was interviewed by one of our more upmarket Sunday newspapers about a book I had written. Rather frighteningly, they sent their most celebrated interviewer to do the job - a fierce woman with a reputation for skewering her subjects in print. I was duly skewered.

She “tricked” me into admitting that when I make a cup of tea for myself I do not fill the kettle to the top but boil only a mug-full of water.

From a two-hour conversation - which covered just about everything from childhood literacy to the state of the nation in general - she picked out that little gem to show that I am an eccentric character.

I was baffled then and I am baffled now. Why would anyone boil more water than they need? It takes longer for the kettle to boil (a waste of time) and uses more water (an increasingly scarce resource) and more electricity (bad for the environment).

But, of course, that misses the point. I was an object of ridicule in the eyes of this clever, sophisticated woman because it was simply very silly even to give a thought to such a quaint old-fashioned notion as waste.

That interview was nearly ten years ago and it would be nice to think that things have changed since then. I’m not sure they have. Most of us these days are conscious of how much energy we use, but that’s mostly because of climate change and bigger bills.
We are still a very long way away from viewing waste in the way our parents and grandparents viewed it - not that they always had much choice in the matter.

Almost nothing was wasted when I was a child quite simply because there was scarcely enough to go around. The historian David Kynaston has written a powerful book, Austerity Britain, in which he describes a nation after five years of war whose people were exhausted, under-nourished and poorly dressed - mostly due to rationing.

Even bread, which was freely available during the war years, was rationed. So was just about everything else. The bacon ration was one ounce a week.

My house had an outdoor lavatory and we used the South Wales Echo rather than enjoy the luxury of toilet rolls. But at least we had hot running water. More than a third of all houses did not - let alone a bathroom or indoor lavatory.

In those circumstances, the very idea of wasting food was anathema. So it remained, long after rationing had come to an end. The Sunday joint was made to last for two, or even three, days and every scrap of leftover food was eaten. Potatoes and cabbage became bubble and squeak, and stale bread became bread pudding.

On my first trip to the United States in the late Sixties I went to a restaurant called, for obvious reasons, The Big Texan. The minimum height for a waiter was 6ft 6in and the signature dish was a 72oz steak. Think of that on your plate. That’s the equivalent of a large leg of lamb.

The big gimmick was that if you ate the whole thing (with jacket potato, starter and pudding) you got the meal free. Many succeeded - there was a list of names on the wall, including that of a New York stevedore who had eaten two - but many more failed.

And, of course, the residue was thrown out. It epitomised the greed and waste of America that made me feel so smug about being British.

Thirty years later we have overtaken them. A government study a few weeks ago showed that the British waste more food than any other people on Earth: almost seven million tons a year. What is truly shocking about this is that half of it - fruit, vegetables, meat, bread and dairy produce - could have been eaten.

It’s not thrown away because it has gone rotten but because we buy more than we need and simply sling it in the bin when we realise we’re not going to eat it. For a typical family of four that means about £35 worth of food is dumped every week.

Lord Haskins, a former government adviser, calls it an “outrage” and he is right.

So who’s to blame? It’s partly the supermarkets. Haskins, who ran Northern Foods, which supplies the big supermarket chains, criticises them for their “beauty pageant” standards: refusing to sell any fruit and veg, for instance, that doesn’t meet their exact requirements for shape and size. God alone knows what risk we might be running by eating an ugly potato or knobbly carrot, but there we are.

They also trim a lot of meat and throw it away, says Haskins, ‘to make the packs appear pretty on the shelf’. And then there are the tricks to entice us to buy so much. The classic is the BOGOF: Buy One, Get One Free.

But it’s no good blaming the supermarkets. They will argue that they are merely doing what all retailers try to do: giving the customers what they want.

There’s a lot of truth in that. No one is forcing us to fall for it. We like supermarkets and what they have to offer. One study after another has shown that it can be much cheaper to buy food in local shops and markets than at Tesco or Asda, but we want the choice and the convenience, and that’s that. The problem lies with the kind of food we buy and what we do with it when we get it home.

November 17, 2007

Well done Sainsbury’s!

Filed under: Branding, Environment — Kaajal @ 12:39 pm

Sainsbury's cuts usage by 85 million plastic bags

Sainsbury’s started selling reusable bags at their counters 6 months ago. Know what happened? The number of free plastic bags they had to give away fell by 85 million!

85 million less plastic bags is 750 tonnes of bags not going to landfill and 85 million less bags polluting our planet!

And 85 million bags Sainsbury’s didn’t have to pay for and give away free. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Win-win all around.

Way to go, Sainsbury’s.

November 8, 2007

Want funding for a cause? Here’s how to get it.

Filed under: Branding, Environment — Kaajal @ 2:47 pm

Lauren Bush feeds Honduran kids from the proceeds of the FEED bag she designed

Have you seen a site called Trendwatching? It’s a sensitive monitor of how things are changing in our world. I can spend hours reading their findings; they’re completely fascinating.

In one of their studies they talk of participation being the new consumption; about how for new age consumers, status comes from finding an appreciative audience (in much the same way as brands operate).

As evidence of this, look at what Lauren Bush (George W’s niece, who’s carving out a niche for herself that is building a huge identity for herself, not just as a president’s pretty niece) doing at

Go do a news search for her and see how powerful and impactful her simple actions have been.

If you are involved in supporting a great cause, there’s a lesson in there. Use a universally needed product to generate funds for your cause. Allow today’s new wave consumers to feel involved in your cause, even if the involvement is peripheral.

Have us design a Cause Bag for your cause. Put it on your website, put it on Amazon, put it on ebay, and expose your cause to the world with this easy-to-be-involved system.

Sell your Cause Bag at a hefty premium. Sell it between $ 50 and $ 100. Depending on the style and quantities involved we’ll do you the bag for probably less than ten bucks. A beautifully handcrafted high value looking bag that people will be proud to carry.

Each bag you sell will raise anything between $ 40 and $ 90 for your cause.

Each bag you sell will act as a walking billboard to generate awareness for your cause.

Each bag you sell will allow a new age consumer to feel a sense of having participated in addressing your cause.

Why wait? Let’s start now. Write to me at rajiv at badlani dot com. There’s a cause bag waiting to be made for your cause. See the vast selection at

November 7, 2007

Plastic bags news updates

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 4:34 pm

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joined fellow elected officials and President George W. Bush’s niece Lauren Monday in an effort to push through a City Council bill aimed at reducing the city’s dependence on plastic shopping bags. Here’s the story.

Bush plugged the FEED Bag she launched on-line in April for the United Nations World Food Program. (She’s its honorary spokeswoman.) Proceeds from the $60 reusable burlap and cotton bags — with the word “FEED” stamped on the side — help the U.N. provide a child with food for an entire school year. Story here.

Ms. Bush told reporters: The average American uses between 300 and 700 bags a year. To give you a visual of that number, if everyone in the U.S. were to make a giant chain with their plastic bag, it would wrap around the earth 760 times. That’s just the American annual consumption of plastic bags. And on top of that, plastic bags don’t biodegrade. They only break down into tiny toxic little bits that pollute the soil and our waterways. This process is called photodegrade and it takes around 1,000 years for these bags to break down in our landfills. It is for these reasons that I support this legislation in City Council. I think it is important for New Yorkers to recycle plastic bags and buy reusable bags. Story here.

Will Chicago follow New York and bag the plastic bag? Mayor Richard Daley is on a mission to make Chicago the greenest city in the country. Story here.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic DEVON shoppers will undergo radical “plastic surgery” thanks to a series of ‘Don’t let Devon go to waste’ roadshows next week aimed at reducing the use of plastic bags. A team of green surgeons will be on hand at supermarkets across the county to transplant shopping from disposable plastic bags into sturdy cotton bags which can be used again and again. This story is here.

Norwich City Council is looking into the possibility of planning to launch its own reusable cloth bag in the new year. This story is here.

Steve Morphew, leader of the council, said it was committed to tackling the problem to the extent that it is making sure that its bag is organic and fair trade.

He said: “We’re planning to bring out a Norwich bag in the new year. It will be a genuinely organic, reusable, fabric bag.

“We are thinking about selling it at the tourist information centre and once that has kicked it off, maybe getting more businesses on board and possibly some of the local schools.

“Maybe once we have got one design we can start producing different designs to make the bags trendy and collectable. It is fine to tell people not to use plastic bags, but you have to give them an alternative.”

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