Saving our planet; one bag at a time

February 26, 2009

The great thing is - they’re thinking about what to do about plastic bags!

I’ve long admired Britain’s The Independent as being one of the more thinking news entities. This brilliant and thoughtful article by Michael McCarthy, their Environment Editor (how many other news bodies even have an Environment Editor?) proves me right.

Why are we asking this now?

Because yesterday the Government’s anti-waste body, Wrap, announced that plastic bag use in the UK had dropped from 13.4 billion in 2007 to 9.9 billion in 2008 – a reduction of 26 per cent, or 3.5 billion bags.

That’s a pretty hefty reduction in just 12 months, isn’t it?

Yes, indeed it is; the 3.5 billion bags which have been cut from use, laid end to end, would stretch to the Moon and back twice, or around the Earth 44 times, Wrap obligingly points out (which is a bizarre but undeniably impressive image). On the other hand, we are still using 10 billion bags a year – approximately 166 bags for every man, woman, child and infant in these islands. That’s hardly a kicked habit.

So how many of those 10 billion can we cut?

There’s the rub. In December, seven of the major supermarkets, which are the leading plastic bag sources, agreed that they would seek a 50 per cent reduction in single-use bags by May this year, as against May 2006. It is not clear yet how they are doing, but the rate of change indicated in the UK figures released yesterday certainly suggest that the target is achievable. But where do we go from there? In December, the Government hinted at a 70 per cent eventual reduction in UK plastic bag use (in Whitehall-speak, this is an “aspiration” rather than a target. Targets you have to meet. Aspirations, you aspire to). Could that be attained? Even if it could, we would still be using four billion bags a year. That’s a long way from zero.

Why does all this matter?

Because plastic bags are one of the greatest scourges of the consumer society – or to be more precise, of the throwaway society. First introduced in the US in 1957, and into the rest of the world by the late 1960s, they have been found so convenient that they have come to be used in mind-boggling numbers: in the world as a whole, the annual total manufactured now probably exceeds a trillion – that is, one million billion, or 1,000,000,000,000,000. And according to the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags have gone from being rare in the late Eighties and early Nineties to being found almost everywhere across the planet, from Spitsbergen, at latitude 78 degrees North, to the Falkland Islands at 51 degrees South. They are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal clean-ups. On land they are ubiquitous too. Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags, with one group harvesting 30,000 per month. In some developing countries they are a major nuisance in blocking sewage systems.

What matters is what happens to them after use. Enormous numbers end up in landfill or incinerators, itself an enormous waste of the petrochemical products which have gone into their manufacture; but billions get into the environment, especially the marine environment, where their lack of rapid degradability makes them a persistent and terrible threat to marine life.

What threat do degrading bags present to nature?

Sea turtles mistake them for their jellyfish food and choke on them; albatrosses mistake them for squid and die a similar death; dolphins have been found dead with plastic bags blocking their blowholes. The British wildlife film-maker Rebecca Hosking was staggered by the plastic-bag-induced mortality of Laysan albatrosses on the Pacific island of Midway; she found that two-fifths of the 500,000 Laysan chicks born each year die, the vast majority from ingesting plastic that their parents have mistakenly brought back as food. As a result, Ms Hosking started a movement to turn her home town of Modbury into Britain’s first plastic bag-free community, which many residents and retailers have enthusiastically joined.

So is a plastic bag-free Britain possible?

Perhaps. Who could have imagined half-a-century ago that Britain’s public places would one day all become cigarette smoke-free? Of that we would all be using lead-free petrol? Who would have thought even a decade ago, come to that, that about two-thirds of us would by now be actively engaged in recycling? Major shifts in public behaviour can certainly occur.

So what would be needed to make such a change?

Above all, a general change in consumer attitudes, towards the “re-use habit” – employing reusable shopping bags. Older people will remember how this was entirely the norm before the late 1960s; households, and in particular, housewives – as they then were – had a “shopping bag”, a sturdy receptacle which was used to carry items bought in the daily shopping expedition. But that was the very different pattern of household shopping then – the purchase of a much smaller number of items, on a daily basis, after a walk to small shops – which were local. Today the housewife is largely a vanished species, and many of us tend to drive to the supermarket once a week and fill up the boot with seven days’ worth of provisions, for which plastic bags, of course, are fantastically useful. It’s a hard habit to break.

Why have we seen such a dramatic drop in plastic bag use this year?

Because the leading supermarkets and other retailers are making a major effort to wean us from the habit, with a whole host of initiatives, ranging from “bags for life” schemes to bag-free checkouts. It is clear that habits are starting to change; reusable bags are more visible than they were even two years ago. Wrap’s Dr Richard Swannell said yesterday: “When you go into supermarkets or go down the High Street, there is a real plethora of people with reusable bags.”

Should the Government be putting a tax on plastic bags?

The Government is considering the idea, and Gordon Brown has said that if actions by the retailers do not achieve the desired result, then direct intervention is a possibility. What people have in mind is the example of Ireland, where in 2002 a levy of €0.22 – the PlasTax – was introduced on all plastic bags, the first of its kind in the world. This quickly prompted a quite astonishing reduction of 90 per cent, from 1.2 billion bags a year to fewer than 200,000, and an enormous uptake in the use of cloth bags – with the revenue from the tax ring-fenced for environmental clean-up schemes.

What is the Government going to do next?

In the Climate Change Act, which was introduced late last year, the Government gave itself the power to bring in a plastic bag levy. You might well think that it wouldn’t give itself a power it wasn’t eventually going to use. Certainly, kicking the habit completely may well require stronger action. To get a sense of the scale of the problem, check out the website, which has a “clock” showing how many plastic bags have been produced so far in 2009. At 6pm last night, the figure was 76.37 billion.

Will Britain soon be a plastic bag-free nation?


* The trend in plastic bag use is definitely falling, which suggests we are moving in the right direction

* The Government intends to drive bag use down even further

* Ministers may bring in a tax, which in Ireland has reduced usage by 94 per cent, which will help further


* We are now too attached to the weekly supermarket shop, which plastic bags facilitate

* It is unrealistic to expect everyone to return to the habits of the 1960s

* Plastic bags are simply too convenient for people to give up altogether, and they certainly hold heavy shopping better than paper ones

Yes, but the arguement against paper bags isn’t even relevant as using paper bags is also very, very wasteful. The only answer is reusable cloth bags.

See how attractive and well priced they can be at

Legislation needs tweaking to make people realise reusable cloth bags are the only answer

This article from the Denver Post points out how important it is to get legislation right when addressing the problem of plastic bags.

Encouraging people to move toward reusable shopping bags is a good idea.

We get that, and support it.

However, the bag-banning measure blowing through the state legislature has morphed into something that will be counterproductive to its laudable aims.

Originally, Senate Bill 156 would have charged shoppers at big stores 6 cents for every plastic bag they used to pack up their purchases.

The idea was to give people an economic incentive to bring their own, reusable bags to a store. Good enough.

But the measure left paper bags out of the equation. Stores could provide those to customers without charge. Paper bags aren’t exactly enviro-friendly. Their creation uses energy and causes pollution, and they don’t biodegrade all that fast in modern landfills.

It’s logical to assume people would just start using paper bags, which are more expensive for stores to provide, instead of plastic.

In a committee meeting last week, Sen. Jennifer Veiga, the bill’s sponsor, said she planned to strip out the 6 cent per plastic bag charge since it was causing controversy.

So, we’re left with a bill that bans plastic but leaves paper free? What do you think is going to happen?

The bill is a project being pursued by a group of students from the Kent Denver School. We admire their pluck.

But the truth is, the only way this is going to work is to prohibit stores from giving out either paper or plastic bags for free. If you give stores the option to charge customers a reasonable fee for plastic or paper, they’ll gradually begin to re-use their bags or move entirely to the cloth bags.

Cutting down on the world’s plastic bag consumption is a worthy goal and one we support. But any legislation that swaps one set of environmental problems for another is not a step forward.

February 25, 2009

When you’re blessed with so much beauty you can’t let plastic bags spoil it for you!

The Aspen-Telluride area is not going to let it happen. I just read this news release today:

Aspen-Telluride bag challenge expanded

Beginning March 1, 26 mountain towns including three in the Roaring Fork Valley are competing in the 2009 Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST) Reusable Bag Challenge, to see which town can minimize their use of single-use, disposable shopping bags the most. The competition will end on Sept. 1.

Participating stores will be responsible for tallying every reusable bag used or purchased by a customer at checkout. The “winner” will be determined on a per-capita basis by which community uses the most reusable bags during the six-month period.

The winning town will receive a $5,000 grant from Alpine Bank to install a solar panel system at a public school.

Participating Colorado towns are Telluride, Aspen, Mountain Village, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Breckenridge, Silverthorne, Dillon, Frisco, Steamboat Springs, Grand Lake, Granby, Winter Park, Fraser, Estes Park, Crested Butte, Vail, Avon, Eagle, Gypsum, and Mount Crested Butte. Jackson Hole, Wyo., Park City, Utah, Sun Valley, Ketchum, and Hailey, Idaho will also compete.

Aspen and Telluride competed in the first bag challenge this past summer, eliminating the use of an estimated 140,359 single-use shopping bags.

Well done folks! I’m just writing to them suggesting they look at our bags at and see how economical they can be when bought straight from us!

February 24, 2009

I say tax plastic bags. Bob Dylan would probably agree.

In an article in the D.C. Examiner Harry Jaffe invokes Bob Dylan’s famous song to remind us just what’s blowin’ in the wind nowadays. Plastic bags.

Or, he continues, floating by if you are on the Anacostia River or the Chesapeake Bay. Or washing in on a wave at Rehoboth. Or mucking up your drawers and closets.

We are awash in plastic packaging. My desk is adorned at this moment by a balled-up white plastic bag. I have nearly severed fingers cutting through plastic packaging on toys and gadgets. Don’t even start me on Styrofoam.

But he has an argument against D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells who’d like to levy a 5 cent charge for each bag used at a grocery or drugstore.

He believes the charge will only affect poorer folks.

Wells and the eight other council members who signed onto his bill have plenty of support from the green corps. San Francisco has banned plastic bags, and the city reports that 75 million fewer bags showed up in the waste stream. Ireland instituted a 19-cent fee on bags, and usage dropped 90 percent, according to environmentalists. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to charge 6 cents a bag; Los Angeles City Council has voted to ban bags in July 2010.

Why not flip the equation? Why not pay people a nickel for each bag they recycle? Why would that not achieve Wells’ goal of cutting usage and also encourage people to pick up trash? A twofer!

Wells tells me Giant Food already pays for bags. Bring bags to Giant and the store will credit you 5 cents each or trade used bags for clean ones.

“That works well,” he says, “but it’s still best to stop source point production.” As in make fewer bags.

Me, I agree with the councilman. People don’t like coughing up money, even 5 cents, for things like plastic bags.

I suspect it will be more effective than Harry’s idea. But giving an incentive to folks who bring their own cloth bag is not a bad idea at all.

February 10, 2009

Refashion is a great concept. Kind of cradle to grave to cradle…

Ever imagined them yucky plastic bags could become fashionable and eco-friendly?

An exhibit held last month at an LA store featured one-of-a-kind dresses made from plastic bags and other recyclable materials, designed by local L.A. artists.

Reusing plastic grocery bags and other material like cardboard, mussel shells, string, burlap fabric, wire and Christmas lights, the designers created pieces to demonstrate “how a mundane object, often used as a trash receptacle, can create stylized, eye-catching, inspiring creations.”

The world over, plastic is going out of fashion. Several cities are bringing in legislations restricting the use of plastic and eco-friendly initiatives are garnering attention.

We at Norquest are also doing our bit in this direction. See

Green is “in” and you too can be part of the growing bandwagon of eco-conscious citizens. Get yourself a reusable bag to start with and you’ll be doing a lot towards saving the environment.

February 3, 2009

Perception IS reality. Good guys DO finish first.

People judge you by what you do, not what you say.

Close your eyes for a moment. Now think of Rolls Royce. Or Mercedes, or Nike, or Toyota.

Each of these names evokes very clear thoughts, feelings, and images. They all have a strong corporate identity, or brand, associated with their name, and it is no accident. These companies have spent a lot of money getting you to conjure up specific images and feelings when you think about their business.

So the idea of creating a brand for your business is really quite important. While it might seem that creating a brand is beyond your reach, that branding is a concept for the “Big Boys,” think again. Branding is something you can, and must, do too.

Now think of your favorite hairdresser, or restaurant. Chances are that the images are equally clear. That’s what makes them your favorites. They know what they are all about and have taken the trouble to make sure that you share the same perception.

What this proves is that you don’t have to be a big multinational to build a successful brand.

Here’s why: Boiled down to its basics, a brand is the essence of what makes your business unique. It combines your name, logo, and purpose into an identifiable whole. Are you the friendly lawyer, the holistic market, the geeky computer consultant, or what? Without a brand, you may find that instead of being all things to all people, you are nothing to no one. A brand is a hook to hang your hat on, so that people remember you, which is probably more important to a small business than anyone else.

You begin to create a brand by carefully thinking about what your business is, what makes it unique, who your customers are, and what it is they want. Deciding upon a brand is vital because many other decisions will hinge on this one. Your name, logo, slogan, even the location you choose and your pricing structure depend on the brand you are trying to create. A discount motorcycle warehouse will put things together far differently than a Harley showroom.

You want to create a consistent theme through your ads, pricing, logo, etc. which reinforces the image you intend to create.

But branding goes even beyond that. Since your brand is based both on how you want to be perceived, and how you are in fact perceived, it follows that the other half of brand building is creating positive perceptions based on substance as well as style. How?

1. Discover what you do best and do it, again, and again, and again: A brand is a promise which essentially boils down to: ‘If you buy from us, and you know what you will be getting’ e.g., Volvos are safe or Atkins helps you lose weight. The key is consistency.

2. Offer superior customer service: All your hard work creating that cool brand will be a waste of time and money if it isn’t reinforced by happy customers. Customers should find it easy to work with you or buy from you.

3. Be a good guy: If your business practices good ethics, your brand grows. While good looks may get you a date, being a good guy will get you a mate. Pay invoices on time. Do more than asked of you. Do things when not asked. Help out in the community. That also builds your brand.

Remember, the two keys to establishing a strong brand are developing a specific identity, and then communicating that identity consistently. Do that, and your small business will have a hook that is memorable.

In today’s world when plastics are now perceived universally as being harmful, using a reusable cotton or a canvas bag to promote your brand immediately positions you as being a good company that cares about its environment.

Wouldn’t that be expensive? Stop by at and see how economical they can be.

Remember that bags have been proven to be the best bang for your promotional buck. Read this research to know what great value they can deliver.

Reusable bags go to the Academy Awards this year

The red carpet at the Academy Awards is going a little green this year. A reusable dry cleaning garment bag by Chicago-based Dry Greening will be the official “swag bag” for one of the Oscar after parties.

It marks the first time ever that a dry cleaning accessory will be featured in the gifting lounge at one of the premier Oscar after parties.

The bag on offer is a reusable dry cleaning bag that is both a tote for dirty clothes being brought to the cleaners and a hanging garment bag for clean clothes being picked up from the cleaners. The water-repellant non-woven design is made from 100 percent recycled content.

“I thought if people were willing to bring reusable shopping bags to grocery stores, then why not the dry cleaners,” says Ann Foley, president of Dry Greening and creator of the bag.

The bag will be part of the official Billboard Magazine/Children Uniting Nations Oscar After-Party Gifting Lounge and would be used as a “swag bag” for celebs to store other items they choose from the Gifting Lounge.

“A number of celebrities are very passionate about the environment, so the sponsors knew this bag would be a big hit with them,” says Foley. “Also, the Dry Greening bag is a very different type of gift because it’s more than just a bag; it’s about promoting a greener lifestyle.”

Celebs going green is great news. Many people follow what they do.

Amazing fact: There are still people who think plastic bags are okay

Over one billion single-use plastic bags are given out for free each day. Free? The term is misleading. To understand the real costs, we must consider the “cradle to grave” multiple impacts and the effects of each phase of a bag’s life.

Phase 1: Production Costs

* The production of plastic bags requires petroleum and often natural gas, both non-renewable resources that increase our dependency on foreign suppliers. Additionally, prospecting and drilling for these resources contributes to the destruction of fragile habitats and ecosystems around the world.

* The toxic chemical ingredients needed to make plastic produces pollution during the manufacturing process.

* The energy needed to manufacture and transport disposable bags eats up more resources and creates global warming emissions.
Phase 2: Consumption Costs

* Annual cost to US retailers alone is estimated at $4 billion.

* When retailers give away free bags, their costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Phase 3: Disposal and Litter Costs

* Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food. Turtles think the bags are jellyfish, their primary food source. Once swallowed, plastic bags choke animals or block their intestines, leading to an agonizing death.

* On land, many cows, goats and other animals suffer a similar fate to marine life when they accidentally ingest plastic bags while foraging for food.

* In a landfill, plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to degrade. As litter, they breakdown into tiny bits, contaminating our soil and water.

* When plastic bags breakdown, small plastic particles can pose threats to marine life and contaminate the food web. A 2001 paper by Japanese researchers reported that plastic debris acts like a sponge for toxic chemicals, soaking up a million fold greater concentration of such deadly compounds as PCBs and DDE (a breakdown product of the notorious insecticide DDT), than the surrounding seawater. These turn into toxic gut bombs for marine animals which frequently mistake these bits for food.

* Collection, hauling and disposal of plastic bag waste create an additional environmental impact. An estimated 8 billion pounds of plastic bags, wraps and sacks enter the waste stream every year in the US alone, putting an unnecessary burden on our diminishing landfill space and causing air pollution if incinerated

Recycling is not the solution to the plastic bag problem, either.

Recycling rates for plastic bags are extremely low. Only 1 to 3% of plastic bags end up getting recycled.

In addition, economics of recycling plastic bags are not appealing. From the process of sorting, to the contamination of inks and the overall low quality of the plastic used in plastics bags, recyclers would much rather focus on recycling the vast quantities of more viable materials such as soda and milk bottles that can be recycled far more efficiently. If the economics don’t work, recycling efforts don’t work.

For example, it costs $4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32 (Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment as reported by Christian Science Monitor).

Furthermore many bags collected for recycling never get recycled. A growing trend is to ship them to Third world countries like India and China which are rapidly becoming the dumping grounds for the Western world’s glut of recyclables. Rather than being recycled they are cheaply incinerated under more lax environmental laws.

Even if recycling rates of plastic bags increase dramatically, it doesn’t solve other significant problems, such as the use of non-renewable resources and toxic chemicals in their original production, or the billions of bags that wind up in our environment each year that eventually breakdown into tiny toxic bits.

Using a reusable cloth bag is so much more sensible!

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