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China Wins Olympic-Size Victory Over Plastic Bag Pollution

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View Ray Wan's blog posts
28 July 2010, 11:07 AM
Bag use - and its litter - drop two-thirds in three years
Plastic bag litter in China

As the U.S. intensifies its efforts to permanently cap the Gulf oil spill, there has been heated debate about the role of fossil fuels in our energy future.

President Obama used the spill to highlight the need to diversify our energy sources and invest more heavily in clean renewable energy, while Republicans have warned that any attempts to curb activities such as off-shore oil drilling will have dire economic consequences on an already battered economy.

Little attention has been given to a much less sexy though equally practical idea: reducing our energy consumption through changes in consumer behavior.The most recent example of this comes from across the Pacific, where a one-year old ban on thin plastic bags in China has had some pretty astounding results.

If you've been to China or any developing country, you are familiar with the flimsy little pieces of plastic scattered throughout streets, alongside roads, and in waterways. These bags, or "white pollution" as Chinese officials have dubbed them, are not only an eyesore, they clog waterways, harm wildlife, and most importantly, consume large amounts of petroleum during their production process.

Two months before the opening of the 2008 Olympic Games in Bejing, China began implementing a surprisingly ambitious ban that prohibits supermarkets and large retail stores from handing out free plastic bags across the country. Reactions, unsurprisingly, were mixed with merchants complaining that such an aggressive ban would be bad news for business.

A year later, a government study found that the plastic bag ban has had profound effects on consumer behavior: plastic bag consumption in China dropped a whopping 66 percent. In a country as large as China, that meant saving more than 40 billion plastic bags - the equivalent of 1.6 million tons of petroleum.

There has even been a flourishing of boutique designer eco-bags for the most savvy Chinese shoppers. Despite the upbeat assessment, the study did find that rural areas and small mom-and-pop shops often ignored the rules because of poor policing.

To most American consumers who are used to having their groceries bagged and then double bagged, the idea of a plastic bag ban may seem draconian, but China is only the latest in a series of countries that have already banned or placed a fee on plastic bag consumption. Australia, Ireland, Italy, and South Africa have already adopted such rules, and San Francisco became the first US city to ban plastic bags from large supermarkets in 2007.

Other American cities have had more mixed results: DC just passed a plastic bag tax, Baltimore decided against a fee, and Philadelphia killed its week-old ban after intense lobbying from the petroleum and retail industry.

China's experience with the plastic bag ban offers a dramatic example of how simple changes in consumer behavior can profoundly affect energy consumption and help us avoid tragedies like the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Saving a few plastic bags each time you visit a store may not sound like much, but when 1.3 billion people do it, the results are staggering.


Nowadays, promotional tote bags can be seen everywhere. Do you have an assortment of eco-friendly totes at your house? These tote bags aren't just eco-friendly, they're also excellent advertising for your business, as people take them everywhere for shopping and use them for a variety of purposes at home. Your logo will be constantly on display. It's a reality that if your company doesn't have an eco-friendly promotional tote, chances are your competitors do.

Consider the reasons for giving your customers free green totes. First, it's important to let your customers know that your company is environmentally aware. Not only that, customers feel like they're doing their part for the environment when they do business with a company that is clearly eco-friendly. It may be that your customers aren't all that environmentally conscious; nevertheless, they'll feel like they're making an important contribution when they know about your company's green involvement.

Second, a tote can provide you with unprecedented attention. Whenever your customer uses the tote, your logo will be there to remind them of you. Wherever your customer takes the bag, there will be another group of people who will see your name.

And don't forget how many members of the general public will see your logo, slogan, and other information about your company every time your client carries the bag to and around the market. It's just about impossible to count exactly how many people will see and be made aware of your company through your green promo bag. It's like having an ad campaign that travels wherever your customers go. Where else can you get exposure this broad for less than the cost of a bagel and a latte from Starbucks?

Finally, you'll be able to improve your company's image by demonstrating that you are a company that fosters an environmentally responsible culture. By giving away tote bags, you're prompting people to give up those plastic bags that the stores use. You can take it one step further and encourage your customers to bring they're old tote bags in for recycling when they're no longer useful.

There are endless benefits to using eco-friendly tote bags as a promotional tool for your business. These simple little totes are a wonderful way to spread the word about your concern for the environment and to advertise your company. Your customers will appreciate your willingness to make a difference and will be glad they do business with you.

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