Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ban carrier bags in Edinburgh - a practical idea.

Thanks to my colleague @ewanaitken for alerting me to a campaign to ban plastic bags in Edinburgh. I feel like an old hand at this because more than ten years ago I started selling hessian Fairtrade shopping bags for £1 each through Vetaid (where I was working at the time).  I got the idea from Germany where it was commonplace to use these types of bag. As well as being better for the environment they are also stronger, so no chance of bottles dropping through the bottom or cutting off the circulation to your fingers as you would  with a heavy plastic bag. I sourced the bags through Traidcraft (who provide a wholesale and sourcing service as well as running their own mail order business). They even had our logo printed on them. To be able to retail them for £1 and make 50% profit I had to buy a very large quantity. Unfortunately the delivery arrived on a day I was out of the office and required a forklift truck to unload it from the lorry. I was not popular in the office that day.

Unfortunately, like a lot of my ideas it was a bit too ahead of its time and not a great success. Fast forward five years and supermarkets were selling very similar bags for £1 each.

However, there is a practical problem with such bags, or even the ubiquitous "bag for life". Its fine if you are going out with the intention of doing shopping and you take the bags with you, but if you need to pop in to a shop unexpectedly its not much help. I try to carry a plastic carrier bag in my coat pocket, but its not an ideal solution. As I found out last week when I bought two bags worth of stuff, but only had one bag, Marks and Spencer do not appear to sell non plastic bags. Even if they did, they would join my growing pile of "bags for life", which in reality will probably last a lot longer than I do.

Anyway, this brings me to the point of this article. There has to be a point-of-sale solution to the lack of bag problem for casual shoppers and I think I have an idea. Shops should provide the hessian type bags for a £1 refundable deposit. This would give people access to a means of carrying their shopping home without it adding to their pile of carrier bags at home or ending up in landfill. Even if they did end up in the bin, hessian is biodegradable. Supermarkets can easily afford to do this, and at £1 they would still be making a profit on any non-returned bags. Smaller shops could join a scheme to purchase bags at 50p so they were on a level playing field with big retailers. Because the charge for the bag is refundable its a better deal for consumers than the "deterrent" fee of 5p being charged by M&S.

Do you think this would work? Please leave a comment.