10-06-2011

Goodbye plastic bags, welcome marketing opportunity!

In 2011 one of Italy’s resolutions is to ban plastic bags: According to the national environmental association Legambiente, Italians have been wasting 20 billionplastic bags per year, which is more than 300 per person. The association estimates that the ban will save 180,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Author: Isabella Schiavi

Image sourced from Flickr Creative Commons:Attribution Some rights reserved by katerha

In 2011 one of Italy’s resolutions is to ban plastic bags: According to the national environmental association Legambiente, Italians have been wasting 20 billionplastic bags per year, which is more than 300 per person. The association estimates that the ban will save 180,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

I’m sure that making this decision a reality will require time. Every cultural change in Italy (hopefully not just  there?) faces a long and annoying bureaucratic process before taking place and provokes conservative reactions & vocal opposition (many Italians are still comparing Euro to Lira nine years after the new currency’s introduction). However, I have to say that I’m proud of my country, for once not in the news due to the questionable government or some hackneyed stereotypes, but because it will be the first country in the EU to take this environmental step.

Driven by this announcement, I decided to briefly investigate the existing legislature on this issue in my newly adopted country. My research revealed that in 2008 the government legislated against single-use plastic bags where retailers had not considered ways to reduce their use. Consequently, department stores such as Marks & Spencer started charging for bags, while major supermarkets, including Tesco and Sainsbury’s, have halved the number of bags issued over the last three years. Their method? Offering points incentives on loyalty cards. What’s more, Sainsbury’s introduced its own range of reusable carrier bags. You can now choose between 100% recycled plastic “bags for life”, whose profit goes to local charities, jute or folder shoppers, or cool bags for insulating your food shopping.

Sainsbury’s corporate responsibility policy is only a taste of what the reduction or ban of plastic bags can become: a hidden and unexplored marketing opportunity. It seems that, sooner or later, plastic bags will be dismissed in every country, so why not treat the fact with a positive, forward-looking approach?

Biodegradable shoppers look likely to be the successors of plastic ones and are already growing in popularity. Nevertheless, some users find them difficult to handle, easy to break and more expensive. Regarding cost, I believe that we can’t pursue any environmentally conscious avenue without investing some money in the R&D of alternative and durable materials. On the other hand, I think that the quality of biodegradable shoppers will improve in the next few years.

But, if we are destined to spend more for the environment’s sake, why not invest in our own stylish and reusable carrier bags? Why don’t we mix our social responsibility with a sprinkling of glamour? We could use gorgeous and durable? paper based shopping bags, covered with glossy and varnishing (?) effects, or eye-catching, reusable plastic ones. The eco-chic fashion followers could also choose natural materials , such as canvas or other textures, enriched with vivid graphics.

We all know that printing technologies are used to produce beautiful shopping bags, which are mainly targeted at the luxury end of the market, or employed to carry products more valuable than food. However, have you ever thought how the printing industry could profitably extend its boundaries to the mass market, raising the quality of this underrated communication’s space?

If there were useful but fetching carrier bags freely on offer, nice to look at but reusable, and if they were adequately promoted by the supermarkets, customers may be enticed to buy, use and keep them for a long time. In addition, the entire printing supply chain could benefit from new revenue streams. Designers could unleash their creativity, media producers and suppliers might extend their product ranges, and printers could indulge themselves with different techniques, while broadening the use of the dye-sublimation to print on each bag’s substrates.

So, what are you waiting for? Why don’t you give this business a go? Put the idea in your bag (whatever it looks like!) and start thinking about it. It would be better to explore a potential niche in advance than discover, too late, a missed opportunity.