Who Holds the Purse Strings?
Bags and totes are staples of the promotional products industry. You see them at every grocery and retail store, as part of most awareness programs, and on all trade show floors. With heated debates on the environmental and economic impact of one-time-use and reusable bags, the salability of these once omnipresent products is questionable. Learn how to navigate bag bans and responsibility trends with the help of some of the industry's top bag salespeople.
Hanging by a Plastic Thread
According to The Wall Street Journal's October 8, 2012 piece "Should Cities Ban Plastic Bags?", the biggest push to remove plastic bags is not based on the environment, but the economy. Plastic bag cleanup is expensive, many times costing cities millions just to properly recycle them. On the con-ban side, the piece points out that plastic bags are a minimal part of city cleanup (just 1 percent in San Francisco and Toronto). Regardless of prices or percentages, the bans or taxes on plastic bags are expanding to more cities across the United States and other countries, so you need to know how they will affect your revenue.
As catastrophic to the industry as plastic bag bans sound, they have barely halted bag sales. "Honestly, our sales of plastic bags have not been greatly impacted," said Christopher Duffy, senior vice president of marketing, Bag Makers, Union, Ill. "This is primarily because many bans target bags made of a specific mil thickness or lower-those very thin bags most often used by retailers," he explained. "Bag Makers sells very few of these bags that fall within these lower mil thicknesses and our 'thicker' bags are not subject to the bans."
The bans may affect repeat orders of lower mil plastic bags, but they may also encourage end-buyers to purchase higher price point bags. "Bans have mainly increased sales for paper shopping bags," said Debbie Mahoney, vice president, Sacs and Boxes 2. She added that the St. Joseph, Missouri-based company also saw an uptick in cotton bags. "[Cotton bags] can become a point-of-purchase instead of a giveaway, which will also help increase profitability instead of being a cost," she said. Duffy agreed and noted that the appeal of alternative materials goes beyond grocery or retail stores that might be selling them. "Many organizations see such bans as an opportunity to impact their communities by using reusable bags to reduce the overall number of plastic bags from even getting into circulation," he said.
But switching materials does not mean completely avoiding bans or regulations. "End-buyers need to be careful if purchasing the nonwoven or even woven laminated bags to replace the regular plastic bags, as these too sometimes contain polyethylene or other banned substances," Mahoney warned. She advised distributors to check local regulations to see which substances are banned in their areas. Refer to the Plastic Bag Ban Report for information on bans and current legislation.
Next: Selling responsibility responsibly