getting rid of plastic bags

I think there are enough plastic bag alternative designs available already. The problem isn’t that there aren’t viable alternative bags available, it’s that plastic bags are still being used and people and corporations don’t have enough incentive to make the switch. So here’s my proposal:

  1. Create and industry-wide pledge to end the use of plastic bags within a certain timeline-on a graduating scale that progresses each year.
  2. Initiate and industry-wide incentive (because it’s about money and convenience after all) for businesses to switch to reusable bagging (i.e. tax breaks or something)
  3. Begin a switch to reusable bagging with a deposit system, similar to the can deposits in many state in the U.S…
    Then consumers wouldn’t have to always deal with bringing their own bags, or purchasing a large amount of reusable shopping bags. And people could get money off their grocery bills by saving and hanging onto reusuable bags that they’ve paid deposits on.

The US (where the BIG problem with plastic bags lies) is about convenience, and cheapness.
I think there are viable solutions for people who don’t want to use plastic bags, but the problem is most people don’t care, or are too into the convenience. A solution needs to be found that takes into consideratio the factors that are driving plastic bags forward:
-American car culture (driving to shop)
-Convenience culture (don’t have to plan for the day, because they can buy or get everything they need while on the go)
-Shopping culture (going shopping for huge amounts of food once a week, instead of buying a little every day)
-The fact that most americans are not used to recycling, or a deposit system for recycled goods
-Bagging is done by baggers and not the shopper himself
-People expect every item to be bagged, even if they only buy one item, it’s like closing the sale.
There are certainly other factors that have an effect on why plastic bags are so huge in the US.

I think a solution can be found that factors in some of these dilemmas into the design. The design needs to be for the culture, tailored to the culture so that it first owns the culture, and fits it, so it can then change it.

This topic was part of my thesis research, and there are a lot of things that can be done, but face it, most businesses care about money and thats it. Until you can prove to them that it’s financially viable to be environmentally responsible they won’t be.

Some places have started taking initiatives like charging for plastic bags, and offering fabric or other reusable bags for purchase. Ikea’s done this in the US as well. I think it’ll gradually start to spread, but in the US the uptake will be very very slow.

I think if anything you’ll see it start to see this switch begin to occur years down the line as RFID starts to filter into retail. In another decade or two the retail space will be much different then what it is now.

At least the Europeans are being responsible about it. :wink:

When I think of why we keep using plastic bags, for consumers it really boils down to convenience, and companies are catering to our need for convenience by providing the bags-it’s also (in the narrow, short term vision kind of way) cheapest for them to do so. But if it was made more costly and inconvenient for everyone to use plastic bags than to use something reusable, it seems like both consumers and corporations would switch over to reusable-especially if some aspects of the switch were made mandatory.
I’ve begun to make the switch to reusuable bags, but sometimes I forget to bring them and voila! The grocery store has hundreds of plastic bags waiting for me with no additional cost (that I can see) and no fuss. If i knew I’d be paying an extra fee to use plastic bags when i forgot my own, I think I would remember to bring along my reusables more consistently.

So start charging for them! Why should the retailer give the bags away? If it is a question about money for the retailer then the consumer should pay for the bag. They are after all the ones who are taking it home. IKEA’s move to start charging a nickel for their bags here in the US is a huge step forward… in a country that is way behind when it comes to this issue.

I agree with this. As of right now, there is no incentive for me to NOT use plastic bags (other than personal guilt). Charge $.25 per bag and then post the proceeds to an environmental group, invest it in green technologies, etc. If it turns into a cash-grab for the store it would put me off, significantly.

In the case of Ikea it tens to work because they sell lots of things don’t even need to be bagged – so when you do get a bag it’s easy to throw everything into the one large sack.

In other situations, like the grocery store it becomes more complicated. You have lots of small items and in many scenarios people still have a legitimate reason for the plastic bags - for example older people may have problems carrying a larger fabric bag that has too much stuff in it and is too heavy – they could still use reusable bags, but then you’re talking about an old lady carrying in 10 reusable bags which are fairly sizable in their own right.

Plus you have to take into account the american mentality. If a small retailer like an independant grocery store started charging for bags, the initial impact is going to be people getting angry. You’d be surprised how many customers would be willing to drive an extra mile or two to a different store just to save 50 cents on bags. (Yes, people are that ridiculous) the impact of losing customers would probably be greater than the income made on the plastic bags.

I think that a major retailer like Walmart will need to lead the way in a campaign for that kind of system to start working. Needs to really be a campaign that all retailers buy into, and a marketing strategy that makes the consumer not only realize the environmental impact, but the financial advantage, and obviously thats a very daring feat.

It’ll happen, but it’ll be slow.

That’s an understatement.

I have been saying for a while that it is going to take Governments, corporations, etc. to take the helm in anything “green”. The people aren’t going to do it themselves until there is a lot more water front property than there was yesterday.

If one company charges for bags and another doesn’t, you’re absolutely right. Nothing is going to change. If the Gov’t comes in and applies a tax…imposes the cost for a bag then it will work. The gov’t has to make bags illegal, then it will work. If it continues to be convenient to use a plastic bag, they will continue to be used.

It is not complicated. It is logical. I grew up in a country where they charge for plastic bags. Millions of seniors around the world are using reusable bags right now, in fact, I would bet they use reusables even more than most because in general they’ll be more motivated to want to save a few pennies. Your claim that reusable bags (did I say fabric?) somehow are are harder to carry or heavier is absolute BS. I don’t know the numbers but I am sure even IKEA goes through massive amounts of plastic bags. All the profit they make on the bags here in the US is donated.

Americans have entitlement issues and will whine and complain about just about anything, that doesn’t mean it is not the right thing to do.The whole idea here is doing something about a massive problem BEFORE were are all fu**ed. By the time that whiny american gets it they’ll be knee-deep in it. The scale of this problem is so massive our brains are unable to understand the proportion of it. After a certain point it just becomes; a lot. An example: The pictures attached depicts 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the US every five seconds (source:

Silentstar…what country are you from that charges for plastic bags? Is there any quantitative information that tells that it makes an impact or changes usage behavior?

I understand your frustration and harsh words towards the US…but at the same time you’re way off base blaming the US soley for this problem. Convenience and a “f**k you, I will drive a hummer” attitude isn’t a US only phenomenon.

For any of this to get “fixed”, the lines in the sand need to be wiped out. My country is better than your country pissing matches is going to do nothing but widen any gaps that are already there. From my perspective, it is actually quite astounding at how far humans have come in a relatively short time to understanding how we are part of one planet and not living on 7 independent universes where what one continent does doesn’t affect the other(s).

some good points raised. but also, as many people pointed out, culture is important, and in some aspects needs to be erased for progress to be made. I have lived in Europe, Latin America and now the US. When people get used to something, it is hard to get them to change, there is cultural inertia. If in Europe they use reusable bags, its not the US being stubborn, or vice versa. We are creatures of habit that will produce resistance to change. But only until change is inevitable, do we adapt.

What about having consumers bring in their plastic bags into the store for recycling? maybe offering them pennies that will be used for fresh bags, creating a cradle to cradle system? I know I have a cabinet full of plastic bags I intend to use, but my consumption far exceeds my use, so they accummulate (sp?).

Also, I was shopping at Whole Foods a couple of days ago with my roommate. I always get plastic, she gets paper. When we got home, I stored the plastic in the cabinet, while she threw the paper one away. Sometimes just because it is plastic doesnt necessarily mean its ‘bad’.

Now if Whole Foods started collecting the plastic ones for recycling, it sure would let me empty those cabinets out :smiley:

It is not complicated. It is logical.

Sadly your concept of the whole world being logical is about as wishful as my Ford Taurus having been stolen and replaced with a Ferrari when I walk out of the office tonight. If people were logical we wouldn’t have wars, cars that get 8mpg, etc.

That doesn’t make it wrong, but there are a million issues out there and plastic bags are just a small one. Yes it’s an easily addressable one, but the culture needs to accept it, and it simply isn’t going to happen any time soon for the reasons I stated earlier.

Most stores (in areas that don’t have recycling) have bins where they let you return plastic bags. But outside of that there isn’t a perfect solution for recycling anywhere on earth.

Sadly you are not paying attention. I never claimed that “the whole world is logical”. Far from it. I was saying that the concept of a consumer purchasing a product from a retailer, whether that product is a plastic bag or a carton of milk… is logical.

An example: “In 2001, Ireland consumed 1.2 billion plastic bags, or 316 per person. An extremely successful plastic bag consumption tax, or PlasTax, introduced in 2002 reduced consumption by 90%. Approximately 18,000,000 liters of oil have been saved due to this reduced production. Governments around the world are considering implementing similar measures. In March of 2002, Republic of Ireland became the first country to introduce a plastic bag tax, or PlasTax. Designed to rein in their rampant consumption of 1.2 billion plastic shopping bags per year, the tax resulted in a 90% drop in consumption, and approximately 1 billion fewer bags consumed annually. To complete the win-win scenario, approximately $9.6 million was raised from the tax in the first year, which is earmarked for a green fund established to benefit the environment. Several other countries and cities around the world are now considering implementing a similar tax, including UK, Australia and New York City.”

If I wanted a pissing match I would have told you which country I am from. The country in which I was born is not “my country” any more than the country in which I have lived for the last 10 years. As any intelligent and mature adult would, I don’t see the world in black & white, or as democrats and republicans, or as “my country” and “your country”. Just because I am harsh on the conspicuous consumption of disposable products in the US doesn’t mean I would be equally harsh on other issues in other countries, including my “homeland”. All I am saying is that a sense of urgency is necessary. There is no time to sit and appreciate how far we have come since our cave dwelling days. These things aren’t going to change while we sit on our obese asses and watch it happen.

Here’s some more fun facts:

• An estimated 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every year. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. alone consumes 100 billion annually. While this massive consumption has represented a windfall for the plastic bag industry, the true costs to society from all these “free” bags are enormous:

• U.S retailers spend billions on their plastic bags annually, which are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. The production of plastic bags consumes vast quantities of non-renewable fossil fuels.

• Each year billions of bags end up polluting our environment. (According to Australia’s Department of Environment, upwards of 3% of plastic bags end up as ugly, wind-blown litter).

• Plastic bags will remain in our environment forever. Despite the common belief that plastic bags decompose and disappear, they actually slowly break down into smaller and smaller toxic bits that will forever pollute our oceans, rivers, lakes and soil.

• Each year, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, birds and other animals die from swallowing plastic bags mistaken for food. (Earth Resource Foundation)

• Each year millions and millions of taxpayer dollars are spent attempting to collect plastic bag litter. (The city of San Francisco alone estimates it spends $8.5 million each year on clean up and disposal of plastic bags) Much bag litter is never recovered and remains polluting our landscape and waterways.

• According to Worldwatch institute’s 2004 study, .6 percent of plastic bags in U.S. get recycled.

I live in germany, grocery stores always charge for bags, and they aren’t the crappy crinkly one’s you get in the states, They are a durable plastic that holds up for 4 or 5 uses. I don’t know about other uses, but since I moved here from the united states it has changed my use habits. Just thinking you have to pay for it makes you more likely to consider saving the bag, and reusing it.

In switzerland the bags are made out of paper, are very large, usually full to the brim, and hold up quite a long time.

It’s understandable that you are resistant to the idea that it’s all the US’ fault. But the fact is, europe has been living on it’s continent, and has realised for much longer that it needs to protect it’s natural resources. It is also doing a good job of it. And although we are living in a global economy where big trends such as democracy, and ipods are being communicated through the world, small everyday things (such as a refund system for beer bottles, and paying for your grocery bags) don’t seem to catch on as well.

I’m not looking for a pissing match either. Legitimately looking for numbers to support your claims of reduction. Its easy to spit out claims based on 1/2 truths. Politicians and activists do it all the time to support their cause.

As for having whether or not you have harsh words for your “homeland”…well…frankly, you chose to attack the US only in your post. It was black and white (US = BAD). So don’t jump down my throat for calling you on your use of words. I don’t disagree with your comments…but this is a global thing. Us vs. Them isn’t going to do anyone any good. A reminder:

Americans have entitlement issues and will whine and complain about just about anything, that doesn’t mean it is not the right thing to do.The whole idea here is doing something about a massive problem BEFORE were are all fu**ed. By the time that whiny american gets it they’ll be knee-deep in it.

As I have stated, I believe that change will not happen on an individual level…at least not fast enough. It will require Gov’t to impose changes through ways like PlasTax. Seeing the numbers associated is what the world needs. Quantitative assessment of how implementing a change can affect positive change. W/O that kind of data its purely emotional and nothing will get done. Thanks for the numbers…they’re encouraging.

A Friend told me that in France, grocery stores do not furnish plastic bags. People bring their own bags and it’s now part of their lifestyle. Also I definitely think that going green, for a grocery store, would be an excellent marketing option to consider. Everyone is sensitive to global warming issues and mass consuming pollution. If a grocery store decided to help our planet be more viable by inviting its customers to bring their own bag, I wouldn’t be surprised if people start supporting a business that thinks about our environment.

A couple thoughts:

  1. Our local supermarket (VONS) recycles their plastic bags if you bring them back. My wife does this religiously, so I don’t feel bad about using the bags.

  2. Costco phased out bags. Now they simply use the carboard containers they already have, from goods shipped to them. At the end of each aisle is a bin filled with misc. carboard boxes, from wine-boxes to produce trays. The “bagger” just grabs whatever seems to fit your particular load. This works great. In fact, the biggest problem Costco has now is that a lot of their items for sale are over-packaged by the manufacturers eager to “supersize” the appearance of their goods at the price-clubs to differentiate from “normal” stores.

  3. I use plastic garbage bags. Along the Costco line of thinking, why can’t the bags I bring home also be the bags I send out?

I’d like to relieve some guilt by remarking that plastic bags can be recycled! This site gives a step-by-step tutorial on how we can recycle our plastic:

Like others have noted, awareness is probably what is needed the most. I think plastic bags will have less negative impact on the environment if stores can create a conspicuous station for consumers to return their plastic bags for recycle.

My problem is more the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. I have a closet full (literally, sadly) of Safeway baggies. They’re not going to the land fill, nor are they being recycled.

Safeway has a big box for dropping used baggies. I simply don’t remember to bring my baggies back. I generally go to the store on the way home from work. It isn’t my desire to do well that needs altering…its my brain that can’t seem to process that I need to bring those bags if they’re hiding in my closet.

Methinks I am not alone on this one.