Saving our planet; one bag at a time

January 28, 2009

Turning trash into bags

Entrepreneur Stuart Gold runs a successful business turning trash from the streets of Ghana into trendy fashion accessories.

“Our bags are complete trash”, runs the fairly appropriate tagline for Gold’s company, Trashy Bags that turns discarded plastic bags into useful and attractive bags for sale locally and for export.

On account of the undrinkable tap water in Ghana, consumers purchase several plastic sachets of ‘pure water’ daily. The sachets are thrown away after use and abundantly litter the streets of west Africa.

In the capital Accra alone, waste produced from plastic packaging was projected to reach an average of 60 tons per day in 2008. That adds up to 22,000 tons of plastic in one year. This figure has risen in just ten years by about 70%. Despite this rise, it is estimated that only 2% of plastic waste is recycled. The remaining ends up on the streets, choking drains and increasing the risk of disease.

While Trashy Bags does its bit to clean up the environment, it also works on awareness campaigns on what they call the 3 Rs - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Besides that, it employs and trains many people from Madina, a poor community in Accra, who would have otherwise been unemployed.

Around 200 people work at Trashy Bags to collect, clean and sow the garbage together into tote bags, sports bags, backpacks and other varieties of bags. The people of Ghana also pitch in by collecting the discarded plastic and bringing it to designated collection points. They earn a token amount per 1000 plastic bags.

So far, around 10 million sachets have been collected from the streets and over 6,000 bag have been sold through this enterprise.

We also tried an experiment of this kind. See We’ve had to shelve that exercise for the time being but plan to restart an effort in that direction fairly soon.

Meanwhile we laud everyone doing good work that saves the world from plastic junk.

January 20, 2009

Want consumer loyalty? Give your customers a canvas bag

Stanford marketing Professor Baba Shiv who was declared the Graduate School of Business Trust Faculty Fellow for 2008-2009, conducts research into consumer decision making processes.

Guess what his research established: According to surveys done by his graduate students, many shoppers say they are less likely to carry a retailer’s branded reusable bag into a competing store. “What these bags are doing is increasing loyalty to the store,” he says.

I just read this at an interesting blog called Murketing (the Journal of), who is focused on the concept of unconsumption, which is what you do with products once you’re through using them. Much like the blog I earlier wrote on the cradle to cradle concept, where once you’re through with a product, it should become raw material for another product, not have to be thrown away.

Every time your customer leaves his house carrying your canvas bag, he’s acting as a walking billboard for you, as a walking testimonial that he agrees with your intelligent decision to give away a reusable cloth bag and save your city’s environment from plastic bags.

January 17, 2009

The real world beyond Fair Trade

This morning’s Indian Express carried an interesting article from the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. The level of sensitivity Nicholas demonstrates is rare amongst Westerners. I guess living in the East has give him a perspective that would be difficult for people living in the West to acquire.

Even while appreciating the good intentions behind organisations such as Fair Trade, who certify (for a price) organisations who comply with their standards for workers’ compensation and treatment, he wonders whether Fair Trade is achieving more good or bad.

Fair Trade is committed to denying market access to sweatshops. But, he argues, if they were to sensitively look at the alternative employment options people in poorer countries are faced with, perhaps it would cause them to think a little beyond the obvious. Here’s what he says:

“My point is that bad as sweatshops are, the alternatives are worse. They are more dangerous, lower-paying and more degrading. And when I struggle to think how we can really make a big difference in the development of the poorest countries, the key always seems to be manufacturing. If Africa, for example, can only develop an apparel industry, it will boom.

Now, there are lots of reasons why Africa doesn’t have a garment industry (except for Lesotho, Namibia and a few other places), and they include corruption, poor infrastructure, and quality control. But it’s also true that if a major apparel maker went into, say, Liberia, it would be competitive only if it paid very low wages - and that would get the company in trouble with the press and sweatshop watchdogs. So there is zero apparel export from Liberia (a fragile country with huge unemployment and a wonderful president whom we should be trying to support).

One of the best aid programs for Africa is AGOA, which creates incentives for American imports from Africa, and it should be expanded. The European equivalent, EBA, is a farce and should be combined with AGOA. But to do all this, we need to rethink sweatshops. We need to build a constituency of humanitarians who view low-wage manufacturing as a solution. And that’s the point of my column.

Incidentally, I’m all for “fair-wage” clothing that is based on paying decent wages and providing decent working conditions. More power to those brands. But I think they reflect a modest niche, and the denunciations of sweatshops end up taking jobs away from the poorest countries”.

That is the real issue. One day, long ago, I was invited to a government business dialog on whether the minimum wage law should be applied to the garment industry in Gujarat (this was 20 years ago. The law does apply to this industry today). While I like to think of myself as a good human being who would like to see every human being prosper and lead a good life, I argued against it. Here’s why.

When the law applies employers tend to become more conservative about the number of people they employ because they have to remain sustainable. Without such a law in place they would employ more people and thus cause more people to get trained with sewing skills.

Sewing is one of those skills which can allow people to sustain themselves even if they don’t have a job (I know lots and lots of people who learned how to sew at one of the factories I have used who have their own machines and run a nice little bespoke sewing business of their own from their homes).

My contention was that if more people learned the skills it would do more good that just a few being able to earn higher wages. People like us, who are fortunate enough to have customers who pay higher prices for high quality standards have to pay higher wages anyway to attract the best people, and that is not going to change because of any laws.

So, I can easily relate to what Nicholas is saying. Of course it is easier for me to relate because I live in India and can daily see the vast number of people who have to find work for themselves without having any job whatsoever.

It’s an unfortunate fact that while we have trade unions and lots of laws that work towards improving workers’ lives but all those are restricted to people who have jobs. Any job.

But the larger part of our population seeks daily work for themselves without having a job of any kind. No one appears to be worrying about them. Not the well meaning folks at Fair Trade, nor the trade unions, nor, for that matter all our government bodies.

But Nicholas Kristof has recognised this and appears to be making an issue of it in the New York Times and on Facebook.

I hope he succeeds in making the point that instead or restricting employment further by limiting market access to registered people, powerful bodies like Fair Trade should recognise that creating more jobs in countries where unemployment is rampant would serve the interests of humankind far better than just improving the lives of those fortunate enough to have jobs.

We, at Norquest Brands, are confronted with a very real issue related to this which we’ve been figuring out how to deal with. Our marketing would be benefited by getting ourselves registered with Fair Trade. But, in doing so we would have to take away jobs from some people who we employ on humanitarian grounds. These are some old ladies who are being maltreated in their homes and so we allow them to come “work” at the factory and earn a small sum of money to raise their standing in their homes. As they don’t have any skills we cannot afford to pay them the minimum wage but they are grateful for getting some earning as that raises their standing in their homes and that matters immensely to them. We can do without them quite comfortably, but they need this and that matters to us.

So what do we do?

I asked a specialist consultant on Fair Trade. He said you’ll have to make up your mind whether this is more important or market access is more important to you.

So, thus far we’ve stayed away seeking registration, but the number of customers who ask for this is increasing and we’ll have to go that route sooner or later.

What will happen to these old ladies then?

Simple, said another consultant. Start 2 companies, one Fair Trade and the other not Fair Trade - and employ them in the other company. He told me of a very successful and well known company where their Fair Trade registered presence shows an employment of 300 people, while they actually have almost 5000 other people employed “otherwise”.

It is simple to execute such a plan but it doesn’t appeal to me because I’ve always believed in transparency and honesty. Being “clever” in that manner is aesthetically offensive to me.

Having said all this, let me clarify that while we are not Fair Trade registered, we ourselves, as human beings have provided factory conditions that are definitely not what one thinks of when they hear “sweatshop,” not because anyone told us to but because we are people who live by a code that we will not do anything that we can be ashamed of. So, to satisfy our own sense of right we’ve worked to make the factory a pleasant and enjoyable place to work. The assumption that all employers are exploitative unless some Western agency certifies them as decent human beings is insulting and offensive. There are millions of human beings like us who do a far better job being guided by their own sense of right and wrong without being told what to do. Both, the Western world and the Eastern world have a mix of some good and some bad folks.

I am racking my brains trying to find a good solution to this quandary. If you read this, please do share your point of view with me. I’d be grateful for all the perspective I can get on this.

January 13, 2009

Secret revealed: How to conquer the world

Can’t do it overnight, you’ve gotta work at it, one bag at a time, one customer at a time, but it pays off and pays off handsomely.

Not only does it earn you money and all the goodies that money can buy but it also gives you the satisfaction of being good human beings, able to earn the liking and respect of other human beings.

The formula is simple, you’ve got to love what you do and the folks you do it for. If this seems like effort, you’re in the wrong game. Do yourself a favour and switch to doing something you enjoy and love.

This isn’t about CSR. CSR is reactive, while to do this you have to be proactive. CSR is mechanised, while this is about love, for which there is no software available except all the software humans are blessed with, mainly the ability to love.

We practice this every day and get much joy from it and love it when a customer writes in tells us that they could feel it too.

Thanks Natalia, for reminding us again today what we stand for.

And thanks again, Kaajal and Arjun and Disha for communicating this love to our customers, and thanks again Sanjiv and Alpesh and Jayendra and all the other folks at the factory and the office for making sure our customers get the products they like and that our logistics team get them to the customers bang on time.

Here’s what Natalia wrote when she sent in her picture from Italy:

Dear Kajaal,

Here you have a picture of me holding the bag and a picture of the bag in itself.
and here our comment:

The bags looks very nice and the quality is good as well!! Thank you so much for the good collaboration.

Best wishes, Natalia

January 8, 2009

Imagine, boots from recycled plastic!!

Chilean industrial design student Camila Labra has invented a whole new concept of “environmentally sound” footwear.

She calls them Dacca Boots (after the capital of Bangladesh because they’ve banned plastic bags there), and they feature an extensive collection of ankle high boots - made mostly out of recycled plastic bags.

The boots are built by fusing several layers of polyethylene plastic shopping bags together, resulting in a resistant material, sturdy enough to mold - while the interior components are covered with quilted cotton fabric, to ensure comfort - these boots are impermeable, non-toxic, lightweight & flexible.

December 10, 2008

No minimums, complete customisation and total happiness. That’s what we promise our customers

And we deliver! Every time! Pennsylvania wine aficionados will now get a free wine bag made by us.

Mark, who runs was concerned about the avoidable packaging used when people buy wine.

When he set out looking for a solution he found us. Here’s a testimonial he kindly sent us: “I wanted to get some reusable bags made with my web site logo. Norquest was the only company willing to make a relatively small number of bags. They were easy to work with and produced a custom bag exactly the way I wanted. I am very happy with the final product”

Here’s what Mark says on his website:

“Have you ever stopped to think about the number of paper and plastic bags you bring home every time you visit a Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits Shoppe? If you buy three bottles, two of them are put into their own separate brown paper bag, then they are all put into a larger brown paper bag, and lastly that is put into a plastic bag. The rule seems to be n+1: If you buy n bottles, you’ll be given n+1 bags.

So in the spirit of going green, PAWineTalk is pleased to offer our own reusable wine bag. Made from durable non-woven polypropylene, our bags hold three regular bottles or magnums, with internal dividers to keep them separated. And of course it sports a nifty PAWineTalk logo!”

As we’re based in India, we don’t get to meet as many of our customers as we’d like to. Some kindly write and tell us that they are happy with what we do for them, and send us a testimonial, it makes us very happy.

Mark is so right. Studies indicate that gift wrapping adds an additional one million tons per week to US landfills. If people only switched to our reusable gift bags and wine bags, the US could achieve a huge saving in landfill waste!

See the line at When you look you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how affordable they are. Why mess up our world? It’s the only planet we have folks!

December 4, 2008

Retailers benefit from eco-friendly perception: Deloitte & Touche

Consumers are happy to pay more for green products and prefer to shop at eco-friendly retailers says this article from the Los Angeles Times. The easiest way to achieve that is to give away one of our eco-friendly reusable shopping bags. Each one get reused more than 500 times and the retailer’s logo is seen by at least 100 people each time, getting him that eco-friendly perception from at least 50,000 consumers. For an unbelievably low cost!

An eco-friendly holiday is on many consumers’ minds — along with an uncertain economic situation. Many say they will shop less and cut their holiday budgets by hundreds of dollars. So in addition to slashing prices and extending store hours, retailers are boosting their selection of green products to attract shoppers.

“All retailers are looking for some edge,” said Richard Giss, a partner in accounting firm Deloitte & Touche’s consumer business division in Los Angeles. “If they can be seen as the eco-friendly retailer, that will help them.”

In Deloitte’s annual holiday survey this year, nearly half of consumers said they were willing to pay more for green gifts despite the bad economy, and 1 in 5 said they would purchase more eco-friendly products this holiday season than in the past.

But going green doesn’t mean having to spend a lot of it. “It’s a massive misconception,” said Sophie Uliano, a Los Angeles author who wrote “Gorgeously Green: 8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life.” “People think solar panels, hybrid cars, organic jeans and very expensive skincare. But that doesn’t have to be the case.”

Whether you have already adopted an environmentally friendly lifestyle or are just starting out by recycling here and there, here are cost-conscious green gift ideas to get you started.

Finding an affordable, eco-friendly gift is easier than you might think. These days, brick-and-mortar stores and online merchants carry a wide selection of green products such as bamboo fiber bathrobes and stuffed animals made from recycled sweaters.

KellygreenAt Kellygreen Design + Home, a specialty store in Silverlake, owner Kelly Van Patter said environmentally minded holiday shoppers have purchased the store’s reusable water bottles, 100% recycled paper goods and eco-friendly bath products as gifts.

“The most popular items are functional, for people who are trying to focus on giving gifts that are low-impact,” Van Patter said. “A lot of the items are handmade and made from recycled things, so they’re not mass-produced.”

But your choices aren’t limited to small boutiques and eco-friendly websites. Big-name retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart are highlighting green items on their shelves and on the Web.

One of the most useful and cost-conscious gifts is a reusable shopping bag roomy enough to fit groceries and household items. Many stores encourage consumers to use such tote bags, which eliminate the need for “paper or plastic?” at the checkout line. Some stores even give 5-cent discounts to shoppers who bring their own bags.

“It bothers me to think we’re hurting the environment and all we have to do is bring a bag to the store to reduce that impact,” said Aynsley Amidei, co-founder of Chicago-based Goody Green Bag, which sells reusable totes for $8.95. “When I go to Macy’s or anywhere, I don’t use their bags anymore, so I’m saving them money. It’s a whole change of thinking.”

Another option is to buy a present that doesn’t involve a lot of packaging.

Ethan Schreiber, a composer from the Hollywood Hills, said he eliminated waste by not buying “material goods” as gifts.

“Rather than buying people things, I buy them experiences” such as gift cards to restaurants and concert tickets, said Schreiber, 31. “It makes me feel better.”

Another feel-good gift is a donation in your giftee’s name to an eco-friendly charity or a park or zoo. If the person you’re buying for is an animal lover, the World Wildlife Fund offers “symbolic adoptions” of more than 90 species, including polar bears and dolphins. A $25 adoption comes with a species spotlight card, a certificate and a photo of the animal you chose.

November 20, 2008

Our reusable gift bags and wine bags can make this a green holiday season

Studies indicate that gift wrapping adds an additional one million tons per week to US landfills. If people only switched to our reusable gift bags and wine bags, the US could achieve a huge saving in landfill waste!

See the line at

November 17, 2008

Add an element of fun or style to your reusable bags

I’ve been convinced of this for a while now. Even as more people begin to switch to reusable bags instead of plastic or paper bags, they’re not really satisfied with just plain jane cloth bags. That’s why we offer so many customization options to our customers.

This story from the Bristol Press highlights the point.

Customers were bringing reusable bags from other stores into Stew Leonard stores, asking for something similar in a shopping bag in place of the canvas bags the store had been offering.

Stew Leonard’s youngest daughter, 13-year-old Madison Leonard, picked up on the idea. She surveyed more than 600 customers about what they wanted in a reusable shopping bag, including which materials and designs appealed to them.

“Overall, customers told us they wanted a fun design,” Madison Leonard said.

Here’s the whole story.


Herald Press staff

NEWINGTON - It took a 13-year-old girl to discover what customers wanted in a reusable shopping bag.

Bob Warren, Stew Leonard’s director of operations at its Newington store, said customers were bringing reusable bags from other stores into Stew Leonard stores, asking for something similar in a shopping bag in place of the canvas bags the store had been offering.

Stew Leonard’s youngest daughter, 13-year-old Madison Leonard, picked up on the idea. She surveyed more than 600 customers about what they wanted in a reusable shopping bag, including which materials and designs appealed to them.

“Overall, customers told us they wanted a fun design,” Madison Leonard said. “Their favorite was actually the cow-print bag, which is ironic, because it was the one design my grandfather [who founded Stew Leonard's] originally told me to take out of the survey. Good thing we listen to our customers.”

Madison Leonard said another winner was the “Eat Right, Eat Healthy” design; it was a favorite among both kids, who liked the design, and their parents, who liked the nutritional message.

Since Stew Leonard’s began offering reusable canvas bags last year, and since then the stores’ overall plastic bag use is down 15 percent. To date, more than 80,000 reusable bags have been sold in Stew Leonard’s four stores, with sales up 300 percent over last year. In Newington, Stew Leonard’s sold 12,237 bags and has given away 4,629 since Jan. 1.

Last week, Stew Leonard’s introduced a new type of reusable bags in its Newington store, replacing the canvas bags. The new version is made from more than 50 percent recyclable materials; the inside core is a material made from recycled plastic bottles, while the outside film is a polypropylene material that makes it water repellent and

easily wiped clean. The bags, the size of a standard paper bag, are much more durable than plastic or paper and can hold up to 40 pounds and be reused numerous times.

The three distinct designs include:

The popular cow motif. Madison Leonard says the animals “are all the rage, and this black and white cow-print bag is ‘moovelous.’”

The Healthy Way. Remind yourself to “Eat Right, Eat Healthy,” with a bag that features an illustration from Stew Leonard’s nutrition storybook for kids, “The Healthy Way.” The design is on a white background with lime green trim.

And the easily recognizable Stew Leonard’s logo. Customers show their love of farm-fresh foods by sporting a golden yellow bag imprinted with a subtle Stew Leonard’s script logo as a background pattern, with a prominent “kid and cow” logo in the center.

“We want to encourage customers to be green as much as possible,” explained Meghan Flynn, vice president of public relations for Stew Leonard’s. “The best way to do that is to offer these reusable bags. Paper isn’t any better than plastic.”

The new reusable bags are sold for $1.29 each. In addition, customers who spend $200 get a free bag with their purchase. As an incentive, customers who use reusable bags in place of plastic or paper are entered into a monthly drawing to win a $50 Stew Leonard’s gift card. The bags are available in the store and can be ordered online at

Stew Leonard’s is also launching a promotion that builds off the company’s famous “Bags Around the World” wall. Previously, customers received a $3 gift card for sending in creative photos of themselves holding their Stew Leonard’s bag. Now customers who send in a photo of themselves holding one of Stew Leonard’s reusable bags receive a $5 gift certificate.

The average American household uses about 900 plastic bags a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Between all four Stew Leonard’s stores, the company uses 18 million plastic bags a year. Since January, Stew Leonard’s has recycled close to 50,000 pounds of plastic, which translates to about 2.6 million plastic bags. “While it is a great start, the solution is to encourage customers to use reusable shopping bags,” says Bob warren, director of operations.

Warren says paper bags aren’t the answer, either, since it takes more than four times the energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to make a plastic bag. Because they are bulkier, it takes 64 truckloads to deliver all the paper bags Stew Leonard’s needs versus 12 trailer loads for plastic bags. It also takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper.

“At Stew Leonard’s, we pride ourselves on listening to our customers,” said Stew Leonard Jr. “We hope that by providing functional reusable bags in a choice of fun, colorful designs, customers will be more likely to use them in place of plastic and remember to bring them in every time they shop. We can all make a difference by reducing our use of plastic, one bag at a time.”

Stew Leonard’s, a family-owned and operated fresh-food store, was founded in 1969. It operates stores in Norwalk, Danbury, Newington and Yonkers, N.Y.

Scott Whipple can be reached at or by calling (860) 225-4601, ext. 319.

November 12, 2008

Carrying a plastic bag is now socially unacceptable–on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.

An article today by Linda Stamato talks about how New York and New Jersey are examining the possibility of taxing bags. Her article talks about effectively this has worked in Ireland, where 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.

Social pressures of this nature, that reflect on an individual’s own public image and eventually their self-image can be one of the most powerful and effective means of influencing behaviour.

Here’s the article which I have reproduced from the NJ.Com website

The move is on in New York City to save the environment by eliminating plastic bags. By taxing plastic into oblivion, the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, is following the lead of many European countries. If he prevails, NYC will become one of the first places in the United States to use a fee to encourage the use of alternative, non-disposable bags at the supermarket and pharmacy. He isn’t alone by the way; there are proposals to assess “plastic bag taxes” pending in Seattle, Los Angeles and Dallas.

Can New Jersey be far behind?

Bloomberg is proposing that a six cent fee be charged (one cent to the store; five cents to the city) for each and every plastic bag. Officials estimate that the fee could generate $16 million a year for the City, but, of course, the idea is not to raise money, it is to change behaviour.

This ubiquitous symbol of urban life, the plastic shopping bag, has all but disappeared in Ireland, or so Elisabeth Rosenthal reported from Dublin some months back in the New York Times. Rosenthal observed that within weeks of the imposition of a 33 cent per bag tax, collected at store cash registers, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. And, 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.

To put a finer point on this, consider the following from the president of who founded the company five years ago to promote the issue: ‘Using cloth bags had been seen as an extreme act of a crazed environmentalist… But, now, we see it as something a smart, progressive person would carry.’

In Ireland, that purpose has been accomplished.

So, the lesson on the one hand is this: Charge an unacceptable fee for a practice, a service, a product, and people won’t buy it. If substitutes are available–if alternatives can be used–they will be. Imposing an unacceptable charge, then, can change behavior.

There is a second lesson. Attaching values to an action can reinforce the policy and the behaviour the policy seeks to encourage. Using plastic bags has become something one simply does not do.

So, here we are. On two compelling counts, price and social acceptability (derived from sound economic and environmental values), we may find that the imposition of a fee alters behaviour.

It may take some more time, but, as far as I can see, voluntary efforts get us just so far. Creating incentives to discourage folks from engaging in environmentally harmful practices seems to be the way to go. And, for good measure, while we’re getting there, state coffers can use the funds generated by fees to get us there.

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