It is already 10 years since I first saw recycled and reusable bags in a supermarket. You buy them for a reasonable price (say, up to 0.50 €), you can use them for a long time and when they break you can exchange them for a new one with no additional cost. A good deal, I would say. But it is 10 years now and we still have an awful lot of plastic bags choking our environment.
Picture from Arbel Egger
One of the reasons is that many shops still offer the “normal” one-use bags for free parallel to the recycled ones, so many people save the penny. Many of the customers that do care and buy the recycled bag regularly forget to bring it to the shop, and when they have a collection of 10 recycled bags at home they just don’t care anymore and take the ones that are for free.
Many shops don’t even have the alternative and provide only one-use bags. In fact, my experience shows that in small stores a little conflict takes place when I try to explain to the person behind the counter that I don’t need a bag.
Some people have been thinking about this and have taken action to fight the plastic bag problem:
Compostable plastic bags
You have probably heard about these already but they are now spreading fast in the market. Spain is the first plastic bag producer in Europe and it will forbid non biodegradable plastic bags by 2010, so the whole industry is rushing to adapt to the new situation.
Aldi compostable bag. Picture from BASF
Aldi Süd, a German Supermarket offers now reusable compostable plastic bags. Alternative to these they offer recycled plastic bags, which cost a quarter of the compostable ones. Still, it is a start. Interesting about this bag in particular is the material it is composed of. “Ecovio” is a blend between a biopolymer made of corn starch and a polymer made petrol. The petrol polymer fraction has been processed so that it is in fact compostable. Petrol made biodegradable, not bad, uh?
This is my favourite aproach so far to tacle the problem. I first saw it in a supermarket in Amsterdam and found it fabulous. It is just a bowl where customers put the bags they don’t need anymore and where they take them when they need some. Simple, effective.
some fictitious examples of tassenbol possibilities. Picture from Tassenbol
The only real drawback I found is, that corporate image issues could interfere with the concept. Including a tassenbol in a shop implies promoting that customers leave the shop wearing any brand in their bags, including those of the competition. After researching a little bit I surprisingly found out that many supermarkets in the Netherlands have already the tassenbol in their subsidiaries, so they must have found enough advantages in it to compensate. Lets hope shops in the rest of the world join!