An article from this morning’s New York Times gives me the inspiration for a new design contest, that of recreating the humble reusable grocery bag. I know my contests are dopey and tend toward the functional, perhaps it’s in protest to the public’s over fascination with all things fashion. Despite the name of this blog, our focus is sewn products since those producers are holding up more than half our sky. Anyway, as it happened yesterday, the city of San Francisco voted to ban some plastic bags.
The ordinance, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, will remove standard plastic bags from supermarkets and pharmacies with sales of more than $2 million a year, said its author, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who said his city was simply following a worldwide trend toward greener grocers.
“Scores of nations have already gone through this,” said Mr. Mirkarimi, citing similar laws in places including South Africa and Taiwan. “It’s really astounding the United States would be so late in the game to come online to do something that should be common sense.”
The ordinance, which takes effect for grocers in six months, will allow food stores and pharmacies to use biodegradable plastic bags. But opponents say that those bags, which cost more to produce and buy, would simply increase costs for grocers, who already operate on a thin profit margin.
To revisit the topic of the lack of sustainability of paper bags, an entry from Davis Co-op reads
Of course, the trail of paper bags starts in our forests. In 1999, 14 million trees were cut to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans. It’s not surprising that most people prefer paper, believing it is the more responsible choice. Yet, like plastic, paper puts a heavy burden on the environment in terms of production, consumption and disposal.
Manufacturing paper bags requires virgin timber (for greater strength and elasticity), which is processed into heat-treated wood chips. This creates numerous byproducts that pollute waterways and produce greenhouse gases, which are consequently absorbed by fewer trees. In fact, according to the Film and Bag Federation, a trade group within the Society of the Plastics Industry based in Washington, D.C., paper bag production requires more energy, generates more solid waste, produces more atmospheric emissions and releases more waterborne wastes compared to plastic grocery bags.
As far as making the production of reusable grocery bags a viable enterprise, I’m curious about a couple of things. Durability concerns aside, how important is styling and color? How important is price? How many bags does the average consumer use on their heaviest shopping day? I’ve been counting our usage over the past couple of weeks since I’m wondering how many we’d need to buy. How important are additional features such as inside pockets? How about inside labels where consumers could note their contact information in the event the bags are lost? Then, I also think reusable bags could be a marketing opportunity for grocery stores. They could license someone to manufacture bags with their store name and logo. I wonder how many will be proactive and consider the option? Similarly, how many entrepreneurs will consider approaching a local owned grocery to propose an agreement?
As far as design considerations go -something to consider for your entry in the contest- beyond obvious issues such as construction integrity, how will your bags be shaped? I’m rather partial to this one ($9.95) which is shaped like the current ubiquitous plastic bag because it can be used on existing bag loading frames. One reviewer of this bag says they wish the bags were larger and I also think sales might be better for this item if they showed the red, yellow or blue bags rather than the industrial black. Black rarely photographs well.
There are also the traditional bag options that are shaped like paper bags but with handles. I don’t think those would have the structural integrity of the bags above and I also wonder how difficult it’d be to manage several bags in each hand.
Anyway, if you’re interested in participating in my newest dopey contest, I’d think the first step would be to survey the current range of options in the market to include design integrity, usability, styling and price. If our winner got geared up for it, we could make the prize a little more interesting this time (other than a free book or free consulting), say a free ad for their product in the sidebar? I have an open purchase order for twelve bags for the winner…
I’ve included three short polls to help participants hit the market. If I left out any questions I should be asking, let me know. Also, feel free to cross post this contest to your blog. I’d think the crafty bloggies might find this a fun project, anyone can enter. The more the merrier.
 Joan mentions I neglected to set a deadline. Let’s make it June 1st. However, I prefer to get submissions as you complete them. I post them on the blog as they come in case you’re new to these parts. Sometimes I batch them, a couple of entries to one post. You can be anonymous if you like but include your contact info and phone number. If you have a website, mention whether I can link to you or not.
This must be a product you designed. It can’t be a product that you are retailing, made by another party. Now, the other party can submit an entry subject to the conditions below.
Generally the stuff you submit are photos of the finished product and a mini pattern. You can also include process details and photos of the product in process. Since this is a teaching and learning exercise, intellectual generosity is what’s most appreciated. I mean, that’s the whole goal of the contest so that everybody wins.
Vizu polls have closed down. Below is a screen capture of the poll results.