Bag it don’t bin it – tax the plastic bag

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Eight years ago I had a lingerie shop in Sheffield and every few weeks I would go into the print studio at the back of the store to run off a few hundred cotton tote bags branded with the shop logo. Prior to having the lingerie boutique I’d ran a directional, print-led fashion brand and kept my print studio going.

The average spend in the shop was £27 and if I gave a free bag to customers who spent £30 then it would push the sales up. It worked and the average sale value increased to £32.

The Gash lingerie boutique bags got spotted all around the country and it wasn’t long before I was asked to print bags for neighbouring businesses. When customers came in to buy cotton totes rather than knickers I knew it was time to move on from the world of bras to that of bags.

The eco-bag manufacturing company I set up in 2008 called BIDBI (Bag It Don’t Bin It), has celebrated its 10,000th order and now turns over £2 million.

With 224 bags given out every second in the UK I saw at first hand that plastic bag usage in the retail industry was a key problem. Many bags don’t biodegrade and fragment into little pieces, which fish confuse as food and which kills marine life throughout the world. A recent survey recorded over 48 single-use plastic bags for every km of beach.

I sold my lingerie shop to concentrate on setting up a business that could deliver a sustainable alternative to plastic bags and one with genuine ethical provenance woven into its fabric. We work with fair trade factories in India to produce cotton tote bags, many of which are then printed back in the UK on a two-week turn around.

In a few days time, the single-use plastic bag tax will be introduced in England. Similar taxes have already been introduced around the globe, which recognise there is no legitimate argument to support the case for the plastic bag.

The zeitgeist of the 21st century revolves around sustainability and nothing typifies this more than the humble, cotton tote bag. Cotton canvas has been used for centuries as an artist’s medium as well as being strong enough to sail ships. As a sustainable crop, it’s also cheap as chips.

It’s time to move on to the new IT bag. There are many effective and sustainable alternatives to plastic bags; we simply need to use them. Living without plastic bags will be like having smoke-free pubs and bars and as with the smoking in public ban, it won’t be long before we question why we put up with such a bad habit for so long.

Julia Gash

Director, Bag It Don’t Bin It Ltd