Public relations helps us kick the plastic bag habit

There’s been a lot of hype about the “this is not a plastic bag” bag – first with the celebrity owners, then the Sainsbury’s bun fight for 20,000 of the £5 bag.  Followed, by the ethical exposure that the bag is made in China and doesn’t have any environmental credentials (beyond not being plastic).

Not that this was viewed as important by the Sainsbury’s public relations spokesperson who, in response to criticismapparently said:

“The bag says ‘I’m not a plastic bag’. It does not say ‘I’m a green bag’ or ‘I’m a Fair Trade bag’. The beauty of the thing is that it is a £5 bag that raised the whole issue of plastic bags.”

It seems naive not to have thought about the ethical credentials here, simply setting a public relations goal of raising awareness of the use of plastic bags (or was that publicity for Sainsburys?)

If the Supermarket is serious about this issue – why not stop giving them away? My parents who live in France have easily adapted to the no plastic bag culture – using “lifetime” bags or transferring their shopping from cart to plastic carton in the car.   One of their local supermarkets recently went bag free after giving away lifetime bags to customers for two weeks. 

The Mail reports that Sainsbury will stop giving out free carrier bags for one day every month – big deal.  The paper recommends knitting your own longer lasting bag from old plastic ones.

The Guardian highlights more stylish choices that are Fairtrade and sometimes also organic.   Such as this jute bag which supports shops and farmers in West Bengal.

And of course, the village of in Devon has gone plastic bag free.

The classic (another knitting pattern) is another option – and apparently are becoming more funky.

Well, we’ve certainly had plenty of awareness about plastic bags – so has public relations done its job?  Well check out the figures at – the ticker on the site shows we’ve consumed over 177,789 million bags – and counting – so far this year.  It also claims the plastic bag is only 30 years old.

I think a real result will be when we can prove these numbers are in decline – and maybe the plastic bag is a relic of history (although it will be littering rubbish dumps for decades to come). 

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.