Solving the Plastic Bag Problem

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Six months ago the folks at Target asked us to solve two problems. They wanted to solve the plastic bag problem and they wanted a new designer bag to sell. We solved them both simultaneously.

Everyone knows how big the plastic bag problem is. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. Plastic bags don't biodegrade. Instead, they photo-degrade, breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits that contaminate soil and waterways and enter the food web when animals accidentally ingest them. On top of this, it can cost up to $4,000 a ton to recycle plastic bags, and the resulting polymers are worth only a fraction of the cost, rendering the recycling of plastic bags economically unsustainable. Since legislated plastic bag collection exists only in select parts of California, the vast majority of plastic bags are discarded improperly.

After some thinking, we found the solution in fusing used plastic bags into durable sheets and then sewing those sheets together into a designer bag. The bag was quickly dubbed the reTote and scheduled for launch in April '08.

While this was happening, I was also invited by Newsweek to help with the magazine's green issue. That's when it dawned on me: Why not upcycle the magazine's cover to make a collection envelope. The idea was that you remove the front cover, turn it inside out, tape the edges, and -- voila! -- you have an envelope. Then, fill that envelope with plastic bags and send it in courtesy of prepaid shipping printed on the ad.

Well everyone said yes, and on April 17th the issue ran:

This was the inside cover:

Here is what it looked like full of bags:

So far, more than 35,000 people have sent us their Newsweek cover filled with plastic bags. I've got to think that each of these people spent more than the average couple of seconds looking at a typical magazine ad to execute this program.

And thanks to Target's support we may have created the most eco-friendly magazine advertisement in history to launch what may just be one of the most eco-friendly bags in history. Not to mention that so far we've upcycled millions of used Target plasic bags.

Now I've got a question for you: What other ways could we create a magazine advertisement through which you upcycled the magazine? Seriously, please post your ideas.

Last updated: Jun 10, 2008




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