The Plastic Bag Blind Spot

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Elze van Hamelen

The plastic bag has become the poster child of our wasteful consumerist society: after its short use, we throw it ‘away’ where it pollutes the environment and takes decades to degrade.

Different approaches have been used to eliminate plastic bag use. In the UK, it is left to the voluntary action of consumers and retailers. Ireland and Denmark prefer a tax. Other countries, such as parts of the U.S., South Africa, Bangladesh and India have installed bag bans. In the U.S. there are 24 communities with plastic bag bans, most of them in California. In Bangladesh and India bags were banned out of necessity: bags were clogging the sewer systems and exacerbating floods.

However, these campaigns are focused on large grocery bags. They leave out an important type of bag use: the single use HDPE bag. More simply put: those little bags you use to put your veggies and fruits in at the supermarket, or the bags that are wrapped around your favorite Thai takeaway dinner.

These bags are such a blind spot for municipalities that it is nearly impossible to find data about their use. Only Australians seem to record this information:

“In 2007, Australians used 3.9 billion lightweight single use high density polyethylene (HDPE) bags. 2.96 billion of these came from supermarkets” and “In 2005, Australians used 192 HDPE bags per capita.”

If these are the numbers for Australia, can you imagine the numbers for the US?

Not so long ago it was impossible to think that plastic grocery bags wouldn’t be a part of the supermarket scene. Currently many customers bring their own bags – and have fun doing it. The bag has become a fashion statement.

If you can bring your own grocery bags to the supermarket, how about taking the small but revolutionary step of bringing reusable bags for fresh produce too?

[Image Credit: cucchiaio, Flickr]

2 responses

  1. What this argument misses is that 99% of items in grocery stores are packaged in truly single use plastic. Checkout bags get reused for trash and other purposes. But packaging that can in no way be reused or recycled and is more likely to become litter makes up the majority of product packaging – for candy, chips, toilet paper, frozen food, liners in boxes of crackers and cereal, cookies, juice and other drink bottles, yogurt, milk…. and the list goes on. For almost all of those products, plastic allows for packaging that is low cost, easy to make, uses very few resources and creates very little pollution in manufacture.

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