Plastic bags are an ecological problem. They are easy to get and most households usually have a number on hand. Some are used once, some are reused. They remain in landfill for a very long time and the current consensus is that biodegradable versions are not a good alternative.
Plenty of towns around the world have adopted total plastic bag bans and many have banned other single use products that cause environmental damage such as straws, coffee pods and takeaway coffee cups. Bans are either mandated by government or voluntary and implemented by the community themselves.
Changes like these translate into a customer service issue for businesses. It is important that customers feel they have the choice. It should be implemented in such a way that a business is simply offering alternatives to plastic carry bags. A ‘plastic bag ban’ is quite confronting for some people as they feel they deserve such conveniences and oppose the idea of this liberty being removed.
I believe the key to successful implementation is in responsive and progressive businesses. Consumers are often happy to make a positive change if they understand the impacts, are shown alternatives, and it is easy for them to do.
Businesses need to be prepared and organised. Even without a formal initiative in place some businesses have already implemented a plastic bag ban and other businesses have decided to get on board as the idea gets more visibility. There will be an adjustment period as a change in behaviour is required of both customers and staff. Businesses should be clear on where they stand on the issue and ensure staff understand how to communicate with customers. This may include signage at the counter, a website message, Facebook page mentions and newsletter coverage. There will be many customer service moments to manage – some positive, others not. Be fair to staff and ensure they are adequately prepared. Incorporate this issue into customer service discussions or team meetings. Even a one person business can consider how they will handle conversations. If you expect a customer to change their behaviour you can also expect some teething issues. Even a person with the best of intentions can forget to bring bags. Staff need to know what to say to help. Office managers should have a plan for phasing out bags and introducing alternatives that suit their customers.
In Australia there are a number of states that have imposed a ban. Queensland has the issue on the political agenda and we may see a mandated ban in place in a few years time.
Why wait? Concerned businesses, residents and community groups can work on implementing a voluntary program now so benefits can be realised sooner rather than later.
A strong community connection is a critical success factor in a voluntary program. People must feel connected to where they live and have a desire to look after their immediate environment. A specific geographic region tends to create a strong community spirit as people know each other, know the businesses, can support each other and celebrate community successes.
What can I do if I want to reduce plastic bag use?
Businesses can have conversations right now and make it happen if they want to see it happen. There are many alternatives to plastic bags, not just the polypropylene bags – or green bags as they have become known as. Other options include paper bags, fabric bags, or cardboard boxes.
Customers can take their own bags and actively say no to plastic bags. Have a back up plan for when you forget to take your own bags. For small items you may pop it into your handbag or backpack. Groceries can be loaded directly into a trolley or pram and then unpacked into a box, container or crate kept in the car boot. There are many instances where a bag is not needed at all.
Schools or groups that fund raise can also do their part by considering the sale of reusable shopping bags as an alternative to chocolate bars or other items. Reusable shopping bags can be printed with the school or organisation logo to give added visibility of their support for reducing plastic use.
Parents can reduce the use of plastic in lunchboxes. Nude food is generally healthy to eat, better for the environment and often cheaper.
How can I implement a voluntary plastic bag ban in my community?
Have a look at programs in other places. There are a few links below that will provide some background information. Find out what is happening around you.
Consider Boomerang Bags
I have recently discovered an initiative that is helping communities implement a voluntary program to reduce reliance on plastic bags. Boomerang Bags launched in Burleigh Heads in 2013 when Co-founders, Tania Potts and Jordyn de Boer decided to do something about reducing plastic bags within their community. Since then the success of the initiative has seen many communities follow suit under the Boomerang Bags branding. They are able to take advantage of lessons learnt, mistakes made, resources and tips from other like minded coordinators. The support network is making it easier for communities to get started.
Contact your local council
Are there current discussions already happening? Has it been tabled before? How will they support it?
Talk to local businesses
Find businesses that already use alternatives to plastic bags. Use these early adopters to showcase the benefits. Gain sponsorship for funding to offer free or discounted reusable bag options to the community.
Talk to the community
Contact community groups to discuss the issue. Are there Facebook pages you could tap into to? In discussions you can; Raise the topic. Ask for ideas on how to make it work. Ask for early adopters or businesses willing to offer services to support a program. Ask people to identify possible hurdles and offer solutions to overcome them.
Find like minded people
Seek residents that support the idea and form a working group to share the load.
Develop a flyer or digital materials for businesses. Resources they can download and display at the counter, Facebook page or website.
Contact the media
Get the local newspaper on board to gain exposure.
The Granite Belt
The Granite Belt region in Queensland is currently implementing the introduction of a voluntary program under the Boomerang Bags initiative. If you are a resident, business or supporter that would like to provide feedback or offer help you can contact Brooke Summerville, Founder of Eco Parents Australia here. If you are a supplier of reusable bags and would like to discuss support options to help this community reduce their plastic bag use we’d love to hear from you.