Bag the Opportunity!

Proactively dealing with the single-use plastic bag dilemma.

By Mike Petrocelli

The battle on the front lines of retail includes the battle over single-use plastic bags and when and where they will be banned!  With these inevitable changes come opportunities, and we think there are some great strategies you can embrace, even before the inevitable happens.  

Before your very eyes is a unique opportunity to fuse sustainability (which is showing you’re helping preserve the environment) with advertising, along with practicality. It’s been a subject for a very long time, and it offers your organization a chance to be proactive unless legislature has already been passed in your city or state, banning these “evil” satchels. You’ve probably already had conversations concerning the subject.  

The evolution of bagging has morphed from paper to plastic, and now to a “bring your own bag” mentality. We see it mostly in our food stores, and now many other types are embracing it as well. Local specialty stores like Trader Joe’s have already embraced the conserving concept and have long since moved away from plastic to a fully branded, as well as very distinct and colorful paper version. These reusable non-woven versions can be used over and over. They have shown us a way that works well and have created a mindset of sustainability. 
Before we look at some interesting strategies for you, let’s look at some numbers. According to information published by Waste Management Corp. Northwest division, in a plastic vs. paper guideline, there are some staggering findings …

Bags by the Numbers

Each disposable shopping bag is typically used for less than an hour.

Plastic Bag Consumption 

Year that plastic grocery bags were introduced at supermarkets: 1977 
Estimated number of plastic bags used each year, world-wide: 4,000,000,000,000 
Number of plastic shopping bags used each year in the U.S. alone: 14,000,000,000 
Percentage of plastic bags returned for recycling: 1 
Annual cost to U.S. retailers for giving away “free” bags: $4,000,000,000 
Barrels of oil required for U.S. annual plastic bag consumption: 12,000,000 
Number of marine animals killed each year due to plastic bags: 100,000 
Average number of pieces of plastic in each square mile of ocean: 46,000 

Paper Bag Consumption 

Number of paper bags consumed each year in the U.S. alone: 10,000,000,000 
Number of trees cut down for paper bag consumption in the U.S.: 14,000,000 Plastic 

Bags vs. Paper Bags

Plastic bag production creates less waste than paper. However, plastic bags remain with us for a long, long time. 
Percentage energy savings in making plastics bags, rather than paper bags: 40 
Percentage in air pollution reduction from making plastic bags: 50 
Percentage of waste water reduced by making plastic bags: 94 
Number of years for a plastic bag to biodegrade as litter: 20 
Number of months for a paper bag to biodegrade as litter: 1 
Estimated number of years for a plastic bag to biodegrade in a landfill: 1,000 
Number of years for a paper bag to biodegrade in a landfill: Centuries 

These comparisons are staggering and disturbing, if you think of the cumulative numbers consumed over the years. The amount of information even beyond this is countless. We truly need to make changes to protect our environment and cut down on landfill accumulation in this category. Let’s take a look at some creative ways you can take action!


In Alameda County, Calif., a public agency reducing waste called highlights the expansion of their “expanded reusable bag” program as they have seen successful conservation from a previous campaign targeting limited retail categories…

The reusable bag ordinance for Alameda County originally went into effect in January 2013 and applied to 1,300 stores that sell packaged food such as grocery, drug, and liquor stores. Covered stores can only distribute compliant reusable bags or bags made of recycled-content paper and only if the store charges a minimum price of 10 cents per bag, itemized on the receipt (the 10 cents goes to the store to offset the purchase cost of bags).

The types of stores will now be expanded to include all retail and restaurants. Retail stores will have the same requirements as currently covered stores. Restaurants would not be required to charge customers if distributing recycled content paper bags, but must charge a minimum of 10 cents for a compliant reusable bag (which may include durable thick plastic bags). Each city had the opportunity to opt out of the expanded requirements and none chose to do so.

“Expanding the ordinance to all stores will further protect our local environments and waterways,” said Authority Board President Dan Kalb. “The original ordinance proved to be a success, and we expect the expanded ordinance to make a positive impact as well on litter reduction in our communities.”  

Learn more at:


The opportunity for you to use reusable bags as advertising can help create a proactive conservation campaign and get your brand into your community in a powerful way. Any time you can align with sustainability in this current business environment it’s a good thing.  
Here are some ways that reusable bags don’t have to be boring!   

Select A Style That Sets You Apart

There are SO many different styles of bags you can select. Get creative while staying practical, by finding a size and shape that work for you. People love different size bags for different reasons, so find sizes that work for you.   

Co-Brand With Your Suppliers

Your suppliers want their brand in front of your customers, and they also embrace ustainability. Check and see if they have any programs set up to specifically cover reusable bags in their co-op guidelines.  

Use Full-Color Graphics To Grab Attention

The capabilities of printing on bags is unprecedented! You can FULLY customize just about any bag for a minimal cost. Use ALL four sides of the bag to uniquely capture attention! For instance, a side for millwork, a side for hardware, a side for roofing, and a side for paint, just to name a few. 

You can get even more creative by selling additional advertising space to local businesses or causes that may want to reach the same customers that you have. It can become a community affair as you embrace the reusable bag mentality. 

Michael Petrocelli is the owner of Petrocelli Marketing Group, which specializes in branded giveaways. He spent years as a wholesale rep in the lumber industry and now works with dealers and suppliers. He can be reached at or 800-264-4294.