Plastic shopping bags have gotten a bum rap over the last decade. They've become the target of environmentalists, municipalities and regions as well as many of today's average consumers. But some of the flak they've received may be based on misunderstanding, misinformation and even some downright myths.
Personalized plastic bags have been a key branding tool for retailers worldwide for decades, as well as a convenience for shoppers. In fact, shoppers came to expect that a complimentary plastic bag would be provided to them by retailers for their purchases.
In recent years, however, environmentally-conscious consumers have singled out plastic bags in general and shopping bags in particular as culprits of contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. This movement has caused some retailers to voluntarily eliminate them and many others to charge for them as a means of discouraging their widespread use. Some cities and regions have legislated limiting or even eliminating their use. Differentiating between myths and facts about them, though, may change the consumer's point of view and even help them to make better environmental choices.
Myth #1: Plastic shopping bags take up too much space in landfills, more than other types of waste.
Fact: Plastic bags, on average, make up less than one percent of the garbage in landfills. There are many other waste items occupying more landfill space than plastic bags. Additionally, a majority of the plastic bags that end up in the landfill are garbage bags, or plastic shopping bags that are being reused as garbage bags.
This doesn't mean, however, that it's okay to just throw away those plastic shopping bags. Consumers should make efforts to reuse them as many times as is reasonable and then recycle them or use them in place of store-bought garbage bags.
Myth #2: Plastic shopping bags cannot be recycled.
Fact: Almost all types of plastic bags can (and should) be recycled. The myth that they aren't recyclable was born out of a period in time when many North American recycling facilities did not have the right equipment for recycling them or didn't have a market for them. While this myth persists in some places, today more and more recycling facilities accept them, as do many retailers. It's up to the consumer to make sure they get to those facilities.
Myth #3: Plastic bags don't break down.
Fact: They DO break down. It does, however, take approximately 1,000 years. And while they do, they emit greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming.
How Consumers Can Use Plastic Shopping Bags Responsibly
* Reuse them. Plastic bags are hygienic and waterproof. As long as they haven't been breached by bacteria, they can be safely reused several times. Whey they're no longer suitable for shopping, they can be used in place of store-bought garbage bags.
* Recycle them. Check with your municipality or local recycling facility to find out where they can be recycled in your area.
How Retailers Can Encourage Responsible Plastic Shopping Bag Use
* Provide a place where shoppers can bring back their bags for recycling. Set up a recycling center in your store with a receptacle designated for plastic bags.
* Charge a small fee for plastic bags. They'll still be available for shoppers who need them, but shoppers will be more apt to use them conservatively and to reuse them afterward.
* Offer custom imprinted paper shopping bags as an alternative to plastic. They break down faster than plastic, but they should still be used and reused responsibly and recycled when they reach the end of their life span.
* Use biodegradable imprinted plastic bags instead of regular ones. They're designed to break down faster and with fewer emissions than ordinary plastic.
* Carry reusable, custom printed tote bags made of washable fabric. Shoppers don't mind paying a little bit for bags they can wash and reuse many times. You still get the benefit of having your advertising printed on the side.
Personalized plastic bags can still be an important part of your business's advertising and branding campaign, as long as you know the difference between myths and facts about them. Retailers can be a central part of educating consumers about the responsible use of plastic bags and even play a critical role in the effort to keep the planet green.