Innovating your Way Out of a Plastic Bag

by Braden Kelley

According to an article in Fast Company, we use 1.6 billion gallons of oil every year to make plastic bags. Plastic bags that ultimately end up in our landfills, streams, storm drains, public spaces, and other places when we are done with them.

Municipalities are starting to rebel against the externalities that are being passed on to them, and have just started to require retailers to use compostable bags and support them with a curbside recycling effort, starting with cities like San Francisco (which currently spends $8 million a year on bag cleanup).

Companies like Wal-mart and Whole Foods have started recycling campaigns, Target has launched an education campaign focused on possible re-use options, and Ikea has started charging for each disposable bag a customer takes. Ikea’s approach is the best in my opinion because it combines a negative incentive (charging people five cents per bag) with a positive incentive (dropping the price of their reusable totes from $0.99 to $0.59) at the same time. The effect has been to decrease plastic bag use by 50% in the United States (a whopping 95% in the UK) and increase reusable tote sales by ten times.

Ikea could create a triple play that would be even more impactful:

1. Ten cents per disposable bag taken
2. 49 cent reusable totes
3. Five cent discount per disposable bag returned

But does even this go far enough?

Even better would be if more manufacturers designed their packaging to be easier to carry, or to hook to other complimentary packaging in some manner. Imagine a bag of Oreos that slid over the top of a one gallon jug of milk for easy carrying. I’m sure you all out there could come up with a million suggestions of how packaging could be made easier to carry without being put in a bag, and help to do the whole world a favor (while helping to increase national security at the same time).
What do you think?

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