Saving our planet; one bag at a time

February 25, 2008

Eco-Innovator builds an island from plastic bottles!

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 4:08 pm

Eco-Innovator builds an island from plastic bottles
This has to be one of the most awesome things I’ve come across yet. Rishi Sowa built himself an island from discarded soda pop bottles. I love his ingenuity and innovative spirit.

Sowa is a musician, artist, and carpenter. Now in his fifties, he is an environmentalist who believes in recycling and low-impact living. He moved from his native England to Puerto Aventuras in Mexico where he built his first Spiral Island. It sported a two-story house, a solar oven, a self-composting toilet, and three beaches. He used some 250,000 bottles for the 66ft (20 m) by 54 ft (16 m) structure. The mangroves were planted to help keep the island cool, and some of them rose up to 15 ft (5 m) high.

His first island was destroyed by Hurricane Emily in 2005. The island did not sink, but was instead thrown up on the beach almost completely intact.

There appear to be some other practical problems also (someone mentioned that eventually condensation would render the bottles unable to float) but Sowa soldiers on and is building his second Spiral Island, this time near Cancun in a location less prone to Hurricanes. See how he built it:

Island floats on discarded plastic soda pop bottles

I hope everybody who supports such innovation will go check out Rishi’s progress at http://www.spiralislanders.com and support his venture in any way you can.

One way you could do this is by selling fund raiser bags to all your friends and acquaintances. To do this, order 100 of these bags with us by writing to me at rajiv at badlani dot com and asking for the Spiral Island bag.

Spiral Island bag

I can ship them to you wherever you are at just US$ 4.99 and you could sell them at US$ 19.99 and the send your 15 buck profit to Rishi to continue with his wonderful project. 15 x 100= $ 1500. If just a hundred people do this Rishi will have $ 150,000 to help evolve Spiral Island II…

Let’s all do our bit to help Spiral Island happen.

February 4, 2008

Taxing plastic bags works! Look at Ireland.

Filed under: Branding, Environment — Kaajal @ 3:27 pm

Taxing plastic bags works! Look at Ireland.

In this story that appeared in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, Elisabeth Rosenthal talks about how well the plastic bags tax is working in Ireland. Contrary to popular belief it doesn’t hurt business at all, and as you read the story, you will see that Irish retailers are amongst its strongest proponents.

Here’s the story by Elisabeth Rosenthal
Published:
February 2, 2008

DUBLIN — There is something missing from this otherwise typical bustling cityscape. There are taxis and buses. There are hip bars and pollution. Every other person is talking into a cellphone. But there are no plastic shopping bags, the ubiquitous symbol of urban life.

In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. There was an advertising awareness campaign. And then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts.

Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.

“When my roommate brings one in the flat it annoys the hell out of me,” said Edel Egan, a photographer, carrying groceries last week in a red backpack.

Drowning in a sea of plastic bags, countries from China to Australia, cities from San Francisco to New York have in the past year adopted a flurry of laws and regulations to address the problem, so far with mixed success. The New York City Council, for example, in the face of stiff resistance from business interests, passed a measure requiring only that stores that hand out plastic bags take them back for recycling.

But in the parking lot of a Superquinn Market, Ireland’s largest grocery chain, it is clear that the country is well into the post-plastic-bag era. “I used to get half a dozen with every shop. Now I’d never ever buy one,” said Cathal McKeown, 40, a civil servant carrying two large black cloth bags bearing the bright green Superquinn motto. “If I forgot these, I’d just take the cart of groceries and put them loose in the boot of the car, rather than buy a bag.”

Gerry McCartney, 50, a data processor, has also switched to cloth. “The tax is not so much, but it completely changed a very bad habit,” he said. “Now you never see plastic.”

In January almost 42 billion plastic bags were used worldwide, according to reusablebags.com; the figure increases by more than half a million bags every minute. A vast majority are not reused, ending up as waste — in landfills or as litter. Because plastic bags are light and compressible, they constitute only 2 percent of landfill, but since most are not biodegradable, they will remain there.

In a few countries, including Germany, grocers have long charged a nominal fee for plastic bags, and cloth carrier bags are common. But they are the exception.

In the past few months, several countries have announced plans to eliminate the bags. Bangladesh and some African nations have sought to ban them because they clog fragile sewerage systems, creating a health hazard. Starting this summer, China will prohibit sellers from handing out free plastic shopping bags, but the price they should charge is not specified, and there is little capacity for enforcement. Australia says it wants to end free plastic bags by the end of the year, but has not decided how.

Efforts to tax plastic bags have failed in many places because of heated opposition from manufacturers as well as from merchants, who have said a tax would be bad for business. In Britain, Los Angeles and San Francisco, proposed taxes failed to gain political approval, though San Francisco passed a ban last year. Some countries, like Italy, have settled for voluntary participation.

But there were no plastic bag makers in Ireland (most bags here came from China), and a forceful environment minister gave reluctant shopkeepers little wiggle room, making it illegal for them to pay for the bags on behalf of customers. The government collects the tax, which finances environmental enforcement and cleanup programs.

Furthermore, the environment minister told shopkeepers that if they changed from plastic to paper, he would tax those bags, too.

While paper bags, which degrade, are in some ways better for the environment, studies suggest that more greenhouse gases are released in their manufacture and transportation than in the production of plastic bags.

Today, Ireland’s retailers are great promoters of taxing the bags. “I spent many months arguing against this tax with the minister; I thought customers wouldn’t accept it,” said Senator Feargal Quinn, founder of the Superquinn chain. “But I have become a big, big enthusiast.”

Mr. Quinn is also president of EuroCommerce, a group representing six million European retailers. In that capacity, he has encouraged a plastic bag tax in other countries. But members are not buying it. “They say: ‘Oh, no, no. It wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t be acceptable in our country,’ ” Mr. Quinn said.

As nations fail to act decisively, some environmentally conscious chains have moved in with their own policies. Whole Foods Market announced in January that its stores would no longer offer disposable plastic bags, using recycled paper or cloth instead, and many chains are starting to charge customers for plastic bags.

But such ad hoc efforts are unlikely to have the impact of a national tax. Mr. Quinn said that when his Superquinn stores tried a decade ago to charge 1 cent for plastic bags, customers rebelled. He found himself standing at the cash register buying bags for customers with change from his own pocket to prevent them from going elsewhere.

After five years of the plastic bag tax, Ireland has changed the image of cloth bags, a feat advocates hope to achieve in the United States. Vincent Cobb, the president of reusablebags.com, who founded the company four years ago to promote the issue, said: “Using cloth bags has been seen as an extreme act of a crazed environmentalist. We want it to be seen as something a smart, progressive person would carry.”

Some things worked to Ireland’s advantage. Almost all markets are part of chains that are highly computerized, with cash registers that already collect a national sales tax, so adding the bag tax involved a minimum of reprogramming, and there was little room for evasion.

The country also has a young, flexible population that has proved to be a good testing ground for innovation, from cellphone services to nonsmoking laws. Despite these favorable conditions, Ireland still ended up raising the bag tax 50 percent, after officials noted that consumption was rising slightly.

Ireland has moved on with the tax concept, proposing similar taxes on customers for A.T.M. receipts and chewing gum. (The sidewalks of Dublin are dotted with old wads.) The gum tax has been avoided for the time being because the chewing gum giant Wrigley agreed to create a public cleanup fund as an alternative. This year, the government plans to ban conventional light bulbs, making only low-energy, long-life fluorescent bulbs available.

February 2, 2008

Want to be cool and happening? Go green.

Filed under: Branding, Environment — Kaajal @ 5:50 pm

Want to be cool and happening? Go green.

Its all happening now. The world has woken up to the ecological concerns facing our planet and everyone wants do his bit. There has never before been a time in history when being ecologically right was as cool as anything can get.

Anya Hindmarch, the well-known bag designer, drew huge attention to this subject with her now famous “It’s not a plastic bag”

Here’s an interview with her by Elizabeth Day of the Observer Food Monthly.

Anya Hindmarch: ‘Ethical living has never seemed so cool’

Elizabeth Day meets the designer who made the eco bag chic at her favourite food shop, Daylesford Organic

Sunday January 27, 2008
Observer Food Monthly

Back in the distant recesses of time, when we all believed the earth was flat and Turkey Twizzlers were just a bit of harmless fun, ‘eco-friendly fashion’ was a virtual oxymoron. Living a green lifestyle was something earnest people did to make the rest of us feel bad. Ethical trendiness consisted of wearing hand-knitted Peruvian beanie hats, protesting against the Newbury bypass and owning at least one CD of a rainforest tribe performing breathy pan-pipe tunes.

 

But that was before Anya Hindmarch. That was before she designed the ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ cloth shopping tote. When the £5 bag went on sale at Sainsbury’s last April, all 20,000 of them sold out in an hour. Within days, they were exchanging hands on eBay for £200.

‘It spread like wildfire,’ says Hindmarch, 39, sitting at a long, white marble table in the Daylesford Organic café in Chelsea. ‘Eighty thousand people queued on one day in England to buy that bag.’

The £5 tote rapidly became an iconic style item. Being ethical had never seemed so cool. ‘I’m not decrying the plastic bag but we need to start thinking about how we use them,’ Hindmarch says. ‘I have five children and I used to pick up 35 plastic bags at the supermarket, then throw them away instead of re-using them.’

The bag was made in China, by workers typically paid 20p an hour - a revelation that caused much huffing and puffing in the press - but Hindmarch insists that double the minimum wage was paid and that the products were shipped by sea. She spent several months looking at the supply line, at how small but crucial improvements could be introduced gradually over a period of time - but she readily acknowledges that it is not yet perfect. ‘Fashion is criticised for being frivolous but something like that shows the power of fashion to influence people,’ she says. ‘For me, it was about raising awareness, not about selling lots. The bag cost more to make than we sold it for.’

Soon, celebrities were flocking to demonstrate their eco-credibility. You could barely put out your recycling bags without bumping into Natalie Portman skipping up the aisle at Whole Foods with her self-made vegan shoes and beatific smile. The fashion pack started zipping around town in Toyota Priuses, talking about carbon-offsetting and buying African village goats for Christmas.

If the bag made people think about how they took their shopping home, it also made them ponder where their supermarket food came from. Celebrity chefs got in on the act - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with his battery hens and Gordon Ramsay turning his garden into a pen for his Berkshire sows (Trinny and Susannah). Now George Bush’s niece, Lauren, has designed her own eco-bag (the ‘Feed Bag’ costs $34) made from burlap, with proceeds going to the UN’s World Food Programme.

‘Living more ethically has definitely become more fashionable,’ says Hindmarch. ‘My children are certainly more aware than I was and much better educated about nutrition. ‘We don’t find the idea of battery chickens comfortable any more. That’s why I’ll always try to buy organically.’

Fortuitously, Hindmarch lives round the corner from Daylesford Organic, the impeccably posh café and food emporium founded by Lady Bamford, wife of JCB tycoon Sir Anthony Bamford. Inside, the decor is all lime-washed white benches and willow-branch stair rails. The shelves are lined with vast truckles of cheddar cheese, sourced from the Bamfords’ Staffordshire estate. A table by the door offers you a chance to buy that perennial kitchen-cupboard stalwart - Romanian bee pollen. Everything is organic and sustainable and quite possibly has the capacity to make you a purer person simply by looking at it. ‘I love coming here,’ says Hindmarch. ‘I think I’ve been slightly brainwashed by Daylesford.’

It is rather hard not to be won over by the meticulous attention to detail and the polite staff, liveried in brown aprons and starched white kitchen uniforms. Wordlessly, they deliver us mouth-watering trays of organic smoked salmon, bowls of Bircher muesli and boiled eggs with soldiers, piled high like a Jenga puzzle. Then, just as we are leaving, they present us each with a vine-tomato-scented candle.

In a paper bag, naturally.

 

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