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Tesco and Unilever help protect the rainforest

February 27th, 2012

Global brands, Tesco and Unilever, have both launched campaigns aimed at protecting the world’s rainforests and improving the sustainability of supply chains.

Tesco has announced a partnership with the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) entitled ‘Together for Trees’, which is designed to raise more than 1 million for rainforest projects worldwide. Money raised will be used to support the RSPB’s existing rainforest work, including projects in Harapan Rainforest in Indonesia, Gola Rainforest in West Africa and Centre Hills Nation Park in Montserrat.

The supermarket’s customers will be asked to donate to the scheme either directly or through the ‘green’ Clubcard points they clock up when re-using carrier bags or recycling printer ink cartridges. Tesco also hopes to donate £75,000 from the sale of Together for Trees reusable bags. Funds raised through the mandatory plastic bag tax in the chain’s Welsh stores will be handed over to RSPB Cymru.

Tesco has also announced plans to work with the RSPB to reduce the impact of its product supply chains on forest environments. This co-operation is expected to involve developing a new sustainable sourcing strategy for six tropical commodities that are commonly used in Tesco products – palm oil, beef, soya, paper, coffee and cocoa.

David North, Tesco UK Corporate Affairs Director, commented, “As a leading retailer, we also have a great opportunity to engage our customers to help protect our environment. We are proud to be working with the RSPB – the partnership reinforces our commitment to reducing our carbon footprint and brings us one step closer to creating a greener future for our children.”

Meanwhile, Unilever has been announced a new target for making its Magnum brand the world’s first ice cream to source 100% of its global cocoa supply from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms by 2015. The FMCG giant already offers two ice cream products that are made using only Rainforest Alliance-certified cocoa – Magnum Ghana and Magnum Ecuador – but it now plans to speed up the introduction of certified supplies across all of its products. Unilever wants to ensure that 60% of its cocoa supplies come from sustainable sources by the end of this year, with the aim of delivering 100% certified supplies by 2015.

The Magnum commitment is the latest step in Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, under which the company is committed to halving the environmental impact of its products by 2020.

EU-wide plastic bag ban divides opinion

February 24th, 2012

Experts are warning that proposals for an EU-wide ban on plastic carrier bags should be based on evidence and not simply political pressure. A ban may form part of proposals to be unveiled next month by the European Commission in its green paper on plastic waste. Many in the plastics industry fear that the document may bow to public opinion expressed in a recent consultation, in which 70% of respondents voted for an outright ban.

In the UK, an e-petition launched very recently to banish plastic bags has already attracted some 650 signatures and is backed by a number of high-profile figures. If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it will secure a debate in the House of Commons.

Many industry pundits argue that a ban will lead to an increase in use of alternatives to plastic bags, many of which are more damaging to the environment. Paper bags, for example, use the same amount of oil to make as a plastic bag, but are considerably bulkier to transport, adding to transport miles and increasing carbon footprint. It is also feared that banning single-use carrier bags will lead to people buying plastic bags – instead of simply reusing their grocery bags – for their compost, kitchen refuse and dog waste. Long-life bags such as cotton shoppers need to be used a number of times before they have a lower environmental impact, so it is a question of changing people’s behaviour.

Most retailers object to a ban, preferring a voluntary approach as in France, Germany, Portugal, Hungary and the Netherlands, where retailers have begun charging for plastic bags voluntarily. Italy implemented Europe’s first outright ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags at the beginning of 2011. Denmark, Ireland and Bulgaria charge a plastic bag tax, while Belgium applies a fee that goes straight to a plastics recycling firm.

Ban or tax for plastic bags?

February 23rd, 2012

Last year, the European Commission’s public consultation on plastic bag use gathered over 15,500 responses. The results showed that over 70% of respondents were in favour of a ban on the distribution of plastic bags and the Commission is now considering its response.

Debates and votes on plastic bag use are increasingly common around the world. Countries, including China and Ireland, and cities, including San Francisco and Mexico City, have adopted bans or taxes in some form to curb the use of plastic bags. The issue is hotly contested in the US currently where, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags every year – most of which end up in landfill sites.

Although reducing litter and minimising environmental impact is something every community should strive for, both plastic bag bans and taxes bring their own problems. Although bans and taxes lead to a reduction in the use of disposable plastic bags, the amount of pollution overall is typically unaffected.

When plastic bags are taxed or banned, many grocery shoppers turn instead to paper bags. While paper bags are green in the sense that they can be recycled, getting them to the store results in a higher carbon footprint. Being considerably bulkier and heavier, it typically takes almost seven lorries to deliver the number of paper bags that would fit in one lorry of plastic bags. This means that more fuel is required, resulting in more air pollution. Plastic bags can be recycled into oil, which can then be used for fuel, helping to mitigate the carbon footprint of delivering them to stores.

There is also the argument of convenience. Plastic bags quite simply have much higher functionality due to their low weight, compactness and relative strength. Ultimately plastic bags also take up much less space in landfills than bags made of alternative materials. For all these reasons, many people argue that a much better solution than a ban or a tax is to educate the public and encourage people to recycle more.

Northern Ireland to impose carrier bag tax next year

February 8th, 2012

A tax on single-use plastic carrier bags of 5p is planned in Northern Ireland in 2013. The announcement was made last week by Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, who said that the tax would rise to 10p by April 2014. The proposals now have to go before the Northern Ireland assembly for approval before becoming law. Under the plans, there will be no charge for multi-use bags in 2013, although they will cost 10p the following year.

Mr Attwood commented, “There is no doubt that carrier bags are a scourge on the environment. Evidence from other countries demonstrates that a bag levy is a simple and effective means to reduce substantially the negative environmental impact of carrier bag consumption. A proposed 10p levy on single use carrier bags and lower cost reusable carrier bags can bring about significant environmental improvement. However I recognise that consumers will need time to change their behaviour and adjust to bringing their own bags when they shop. I therefore propose to discount the charge to five pence in the first year, when the levy will only apply to single-use carrier bags. This will ensure a phased approach to charging.”

The plans are being opposed by some sectors of the business community in Northern Ireland. In an interview with the BBC, Glynn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said, “We are concerned that this is a tax on hard-pressed working families and will add to the burden of red tape, particularly for small shops who will become tax collectors for this new scheme. It’s unclear if it is intended to discourage plastic bag use or if it is a revenue raiser. It has to do one or the other – it can’t do both.”

The move follows a similar tax implemented by the Republic of Ireland in 2002 – which now amounts to 22 cents (18p) – following which usage of plastic bags in the Irish Republic fell by 90%. A similar scheme was recently implemented in Wales and has also significantly reduced the number of bags issued at the tills of retail stores.

Many environmentalists see the move by the Northern Ireland Executive as adding further pressure on David Cameron to introduce similar legislation for England. However, the efficacy of plastic bag taxes has been repeatedly called into question, as evidence from around the world suggests that their introduction results in rocketing sales of bin liners, suggesting that the genuinely ‘single-use’ carrier bag is a rare item indeed.

MPs meet key event industry figures

February 7th, 2012

Key people from Britain’s event industry met with members of parliament at a private dinner on 2 February. Part of the Britain for Events campaign, the dinner was co-chaired by Nick de Bois MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Events, and Michael Hirst, Chair of the Business Visits & Events Partnership. The objective of the dinner was to create closer partnership between government and industry in order to increase the international competitiveness of the UK event industry – upon which, of course, the buoyancy of the promotional merchandise industry depends.

In all, 25 industry representatives were invited to the dinner and discussion, along with 5 MPs and also Lady Cobham (of VisitEngland) and Lord Triesman from the upper house. Key names invited from the events sector included Fay Sharpe of Zibrant, Leigh Jagger of Banks Sadler, Kevin Murphy of ExCeL London, Jonny Sullens of Confex Group, Ben Goedegebuure of SECC and Jane Longhurst of the Meetings Industry Association.

Said Michael Hirst, speaking before the event, “Britain for Events gives us the perfect opportunity to provide a coherent voice to local and national government. In Nick we’re fortunate to have an MP that both understands the industry and is willing to listen to senior personalities about the key measures the government could take to ensure the industry’s growth.”

Latest report shows event budgets suffering

January 24th, 2012

The latest Bellwether report from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) shows that event budgets suffered in the last quarter of 2011, despite an increase in marketing budgets. The sector analysis of marketing budgets revealed that ‘other spend’ – which includes events and PR – saw a drop of 7% in the final three months of 2011. The report also showed that traditional media spend fell, while marketers favoured spending on digital campaigns, price discounting and more direct marketing strategies.

This trend is worrying to carrier bag suppliers and other companies in the promotional products industry, as promotional merchandise sales are traditionally closely linked with event activities.

Commented Chris Williamson, Chief Economist for Markit and author of the latest Bellwether, “Companies held their marketing budget broadly unchanged in the final quarter of last year, a flat picture which probably reflects a similar stagnation of the overall economy. However, it is encouraging to see that companies are planning to raise their marketing spend in 2012 despite seeing their financial prospects for the next three months falling to the worst since the height of the financial crisis in early 2009. It seems that many companies are looking to fight the prospects of a challenging year ahead with increased promotional activity.”

Meanwhile, the latest corporate hospitality report from Market and Consumer Insight predicts an 8% increase in this sector of the event industry during 2012. This report reckons that 2011 saw the sector grow by 2% to a total value of £950 million and it follows hot on the heels of another survey that revealed that the corporate hospitality sector employs a staggering 7% of the UK population.

Printed Bags remain top promotional product in a recovering market

January 23rd, 2012

A recent report on the promotional merchandise market in the UK and Ireland over the past five years – produced by Sourcing City, a leading provider of information services to the trade – shows the effects of the global recession but indicates that the market is slowly recovering, with printed carrier bags fairing better than other products.

The largest effect of the world economic downturn was felt by the promotional merchandise market in 2009, when the sector’s revenue fell by over 26%. During 2010 and 2011, the market has grown slightly to some £754 million but remains about 15% smaller than in 2008.

The report also shows a slow-down in the number of distributor companies ceasing trading. The number of failures in 2011 was just 69, although the overall number of distributor companies in the market has remained relatively constant over the past five years, due to both brand-new start-ups and the number of ‘phoenix’ firms that have restarted to shed their debts. The number of supplier failures in 2011 was 59, the highest annual figure recorded to date. Since January 2006 the industry as a whole has seen 769 companies cease to trade, of which 540 were distributors.

The market review also shows little change in recent years in the top promotional product groups. Printed carrier bags continue to be the top revenue earner, followed by pens/pencils and plastic giveaways. Then follows clothing at fourth spot and mugs come fifth. Interestingly, USB sticks lost their position at number six during 2011, slipping back to ninth.

The carrier bag category continues to show growth in market share, increasing its proportion from 12.8% in 2009 to 14.3% in 2010 and 16.6% in 2011.

EC bag consultation shows depth of feeling – and depth of ignorance

January 12th, 2012

With the European Commission having published the results of its consultation on the use of plastic bags, the plastics industry is awash with comment and debate. Many pundits feel that the report reveals an alarming level of ignorance among the European public about the effects of plastic on the environment.

A staggering 97 percent of responses ’strongly agreed’ that action is needed to curb plastic bag use. Comments included the following statement:

“Plastic is destroying our environment and is a pollution that is not necessary. It is has a deep bad impact on nature and it is poisonous for all living systems. There are basically profit-interests behind using so much plastic. We should avoid using it and the EU should decide against unnecessary plastics.”

Strong stuff and rather spurious. Another respondent claimed:

“Carrier bags are a needless drain on our oil resources and can be easily replaced by reusable bags.”

This perhaps overlooks the point that plastic bags are, in fact, reusable!

Unsurprisingly, the plastics industry is fighting back with a vengeance. For instance, PRW.com – the online version of Plastics & Rubber Weekly – referred to some of the public’s comments as “baseless twaddle”.

One thing is clear: the plastics industry – and plastic bag suppliers in particular – are very likely to be facing action from the EC in the near future.

Plastic bag ban boosts sales of bin liners Down Under

January 11th, 2012

The efficacy of the plastic bag ban recently introduced in Canberra, Australia, is being called into question after a leading supermarket revealed that bin liner sales have rocketed since the new law came into effect.

Grocery giant Coles said that bin liner sales have increased by a whopping 29 per cent since the law – which bans the provision of plastic bags thinner than 35 microns, typically the kind distributed by supermarkets and takeaways – came into effect on November 1. Commented Jon Church, Coles’ Head of Communications, “Wherever plastic bag bans have been introduced, we see an increase in sales of bin liners as customers no longer have single-use carrier bags available which many households use for disposing of their waste. It is well reported that following the South Australian ban, sales of bin liners across all retailers doubled.” Coles and rival chain Woolworths have been charging for thicker carrier bags since the ban was introduced.

Alistair Coe, Liberal MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) in ACT (Australian Capital Territory), has claimed that the figures call into question the government’s reasons for the ban. “It goes to show that the plastic bag ban is putting an extra cost on the weekly bills of Canberra families,” he said, “but in addition to that, it shows that the consumption of plastic bags is perhaps remaining steady.” The new laws were passed by the ACT government with the support of the Greens, while the Liberals voted against it.

How to make QR codes work for your business

January 10th, 2012

QR (Quick Response) codes are the becoming a popular marketing tool for B2C and even B2B brands. The early adopters of this technology included the USA and Japan but the UK is now among the world’s top 10 largest users of QR codes.

When scanned with a smartphone, these patterns can be used to redirect customers to a mobile-optimised website with virtually any kind of content. This means that they are a great way of providing the facility for instant information retrieval without the need for typing. Not surprisingly, many companies are now picking up on their potential in terms of promotional materials – including using them on paper bags, plastic bags and cotton bags.

For QR codes to be an effective marketing tool, however, companies need to think carefully about the experience that is offered to the user:

1. Inform the audience

Most smartphones don’t have a native QR reader installed, so you need to tell your customers that they can download an app that will allow them to read QR codes – many of which are free. Include details of these apps in your QR marketing campaigns.

2. Make it work!

There is no point putting a QR code in an in-flight magazine advert or on a poster in the underground network, where there is no WIFI or even a ‘phone signal! Also, don’t simply connect users to your website or company Facebook page – that’s just boring. Think about creating mobile sites, small downloads and content that can be accessed anywhere. Plan your QR content carefully; there has to be some incentive for users to scan – such as exclusive content, key product information or automatic data sharing. Remember, once a relationship is established, it is easy to add additional content such as discounts and special offers to build customer loyalty.

3. Keep aware

Set up your QR code marketing so that you can monitor it and change it easily throughout the campaign. Analysis software is available to allow businesses to see exactly when their QR codes were scanned, which were most successful and which media tools had the best return on investment.