Wednesday, April 18, 2007

“I’m not a plastic bag”

Following on from my last post I am staying on the theme of being environmentally friendly. I was pleasantly surprised a few months ago when I read in Vogue that Anya Hindmarch was bringing out a cotton and recycled plastic bag with the slogan “I’m not a plastic bag” for only £5. To be sold in Sainsbury’s stores from 25th April, as a ‘dedicated follower of fashion’ and someone with an inclination to at least try to be environmentally friendly I was very excited when I read the news. Sad, maybe, but true.

The bag came about when
‘We are what we do’; a movement who “like to inspire people to use their everyday actions to change the world” approached the designer to help them create a product as an alternative to plastic bags. One of their ‘actions’ which they encourage others to follow, in fact their ‘action 01’, is to decline plastic bags wherever possible.

Apparently, every person in the UK uses an average of 167 plastic bags per year. That’s around 10 billion bags altogether. Lying in landfills around the country, each bag can take up to 500 years to degrade, during which time tonnes of methane gas are produced. This methane gas of course contributes to the largest problem of our and future generations’ – global warming.

But of course, as they readily admit, we need something to carry our shopping in, that’s where this idea came from. And teaming up with one of the country’s leading designers was a sure way to get the press and public at large interested and coveting the bag.

All sounding great so far, and I do think it is a great idea. But here comes the sting. After months of publicity in fashion magazines, over the Internet, etc., pre-orders for the bag have already sold out on Anya Hindmmarch’s site and ‘We are what we do’. So, should we all rush down to Sainsbury’s on the 25th then? Well, we could, but a large number of us are going to be very disappointed, as each store will only have 30 bags. And, once they are sold out, they are sold out - “no more bags are being made for the UK market.”

When I read
this on the Sainbury’s website today I was actually quite angry. I feel as if instead of actually wanting to make a difference to the use of plastic bags and offering the fashion conscious a stylish alternative, all this is really about is a publicity stunt. One of the golden rules in marketing is not to create a demand which you cannot then service. But, we’ve seen it time and time again, especially in fashion in recent years, with high street designers teaming up with designers and celebrities to create ranges which cause near-stampedes when they hit the shops and many a disappointed customer. With a measly 30 bags per store I cannot see how this will even nearly satisfy demand. Whether there will be fistfights between fashionistas desperate to purchase the product remains to be seen.

In addition, releasing them for sale at 8am on a Wednesday morning will most likely exclude many a working person from having any hope of getting a bag. Certainly those who do not work near a Sainsbury’s store.

Sainsbury’s are limiting each customer to only one bag. This is presumably to ensure a little fairness and perhaps to try to curb the amount that will appear on e-bay half an hour later priced at an exorbitant amount. But, as a consumer I can’t help but feel very cheated. ‘We are what we do’ promise that “if you still miss out, we have a further consignment of bags arriving this summer in even more limited edition colours.” I don’t think it’s as much a case of ‘if you miss out’ as ‘when you miss out’.

Of course this is not the only alternative to plastic bags available. Each supermarket have alternatives as do many eco-websites and shops. And perhaps the whole point of making these bags a limited edition, as with any limited edition, is to heighten interest in the product (and in this case the issue as a whole) and cause customers to rush out and buy the product NOW. Those who manage to buy one will be able to feel a sense of exclusivity as well as smugness at helping to save the planet just a little.

But what about the rest of us who want one and won’t be able to get one?

Perhaps I sound a little bit like a petulant child now. But if the parties involved are truly committed to the idea of providing a stylish alternative to plastic bags why not offer the product on a permanent basis? I know I’ve gone on a bit of a rant about this, but I don’t believe that by releasing only a limited number of bags they will make the big difference that they claim they want to make. Perhaps they should pay more attention to their ethos - “We are what we do.”

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