A simple idea to reduce disposable carrier bag waste

Filed in Blog by on March 28, 2011 26 Comments
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Mrs Green ready to pounce on anyone spotted using a polystyrene container for lunch!

Mrs Green ready to pounce on anyone spotted using a polystyrene container for lunch!

Last Friday we were invited to swan around the restaurant at EDF Energy to talk a load of rubbish to staff.

EDF are working towards a zero waste to landfill policy in their offices (yipee!) and there are many people who are very conscientious about this topic. However they needed Ms Whiplash of the landfill to gather up all the renegades and help change their wasteful habits.

Dominic is the ‘office conscience’ who has even been known to write people’s initials on their plastic cups so he can see who is throwing things away! We had the joy of rummaging through office bins with Dominic to see who we could humiliate infront of their colleagues. To be fair it wasn’t too bad; I’ve seen a LOT worse. Sure there was the odd polystyrene container, carrier bag and plastic cup, but nothing that can’t be cured with a small change of mindset or a crack of my whip πŸ˜‰

Dominic has his eye on some spare land within the office complex to build some allotments and get a full composting system working. Each member of staff is going to be issued with a keepcup to enable them to reduce plasticΒ  waste and they already have good recycling facilities for plastic milk bottles, paper and other materials.

Two people who really inspired me were Angela and Lisa. They’ve come up with a fantastic idea to help reduce waste whilst injecting a healthy dollop of altruistic fun.

Near to the EDF offices is a Sainsburys supermarket and many EDF staff pop over there in their lunch hour to buy sandwiches. The trouble is, a lot of the staff are coming back to the office with a disposable plastic carrier bag and dumping them in the office bins – quelle horreur!

Angela and Lisa; the bag ladies of EDF

Angela and Lisa; the bag ladies of EDF

Angela and Lisa have recognised this and are planning on setting up a bag share. The idea is lots of people attend conferences, roadshows or somehow get hold of free reusable bags and we often end up with more than we can use. Angela’s and Lisa’s solution is for everyone to bring their excess reusable bags to give away and share with other members of staff. There might even be the opportunity to set up a ‘bag point’ where a selection of bags are left for any member of staff to make use of. When that person has eaten their lunch, they can return the bag for someone else to use.

So simple, but so effective right?

I love these ‘no brainer’ ideas. What simple yet effective solutions to reducing waste have you come across recently?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (26)

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  1. Kelly says:

    Fantastic idea! At our office we have more recycling bins than landfill ones. This makes people stop and think before throwing something away and makes it easier to do the right thing. Good luck to Angela and lisa!

  2. Steph says:

    This is great; I think I might try this in my small office too. What we do is try and close the loop wherever we can; so we buy recycled paper for the office. Plus someone saves and sends off our use toners for charity. All small steps that make a difference πŸ˜€

  3. Shel says:

    On one of our dress down Fridays we’re going to hold a swishing party in the office; I can’t wait for that. I’m hoping to organise a toys and books one close to Christmas too to help people reduce the need to buy new things for Christmas.

  4. Karin says:

    A good idea.

    An even better idea would be to buy a nylon fold up bag to keep in your coat pocket, handbag, briefcase or whatever. Quite a lot of shops sell them now. They fold up very small, but can carry as much as a flimsy plastic carrier bag when opened out, especially if you buy one with a gusset.

    The carrier bag idea is great for the whole office, but individuals who are sufficiently motivated could get their own fold up bag and reduce plastic bag use even more.

  5. Sooz says:

    I love these ideas! My work is terrible, we’re not eco friendly at all πŸ™ We have a compost bin one of the ladies has brought in and takes away every week to put in her worm bin but thats all, I make my own lunches so I don’t really make waste at work but everyone else seems to buy snadwiches and put all the rubbish in the bin, I try to get some of the recycling home with me, but I commute on the train so it’s not really ideal. I might try out the bag sharing idea, I might try that out!

  6. CarSue says:

    I do the shopping for our office, and I refuse to buy paper napkins and paper towels like the last “office shopper” did. We’re still drowning in piles and piles of her paper napkins, since she insisted on buying a new package at every holiday or season, and then just stuffing left-overs into a drawer instead of at least using them up. What’s worse, she wouldn’t go back and use the leftovers the next year, she would buy a whole new box of napkins! It was very disgusting. She also stocked both the mens’ and womens’ washrooms with paper towels for drying hands after washing, even though we have electric dryers mounted on the walls!

    I bought a few stacks of cloth napkins from the second-hand shop near our office, and bought a few packs of high quality microfiber cloths for our cleaning lady so we could ditch the paper towels altogether. We send much, much less to landfill, and we’ve already saved a lot of money, too!

  7. Sandy says:

    Brillant idea, come the day when we can all use reuseable bags at the checkout, when we forget our own,

  8. Tracey says:

    I dispair when it comes to my company. I was delighted when I found out we had an EMS (Environmental Management Scheme) team and even more chuffed when a space came up and I was asked if I was interested (someone must have spotted me taking cereal boxes out of the bin and taking them home to recycle!)

    They asked me to look into recycling (we do toner recycling (free) and we recycle paper – but only because we need a secure shredding waste company and the cheapest also happen to recycle their shredding) and I was so chuffed. I did a full SWOT analysis and pointed out that as we claim to be an environmentally green company (we even do environmental assessments and have an environmental team that save newts and badgers and stuff for crying out loud!), if our clients find out we don’t even use recycled paper because the “other stuff” is cheaper, they’ll realise quite how hypocritical we are and take their business elsewhere leaving us environmentally friendless AND broke!

    And nope – it didn’t sell it… A full, honest, SWOT analysis proving that, in the long-run, it’s cheaper and better for business if we clean up after ourselves, but nope…

    So I still have boxes next to my desk (and occassionally get told off for them looking messy!), one for cans, one for cardboard, one for tetra-paks and one for one-sided printed paper that I can use as note-paper and I take as much as I can home to recycle…

    I dispair for the future of our planet… :,(

  9. Beth says:

    What a great example of looking at a specific problem in your workplace and finding a greener answer. That specific solution wouldn’t do much where I work – we all generally bring in our own lunch – but there are other things that can be improved. We recently have had some success with sterilizing/decontaminating and reusing more types of lab supplies!

  10. Penny says:

    Great idea if only more places did this kind of recycling the world would perhaps follow.
    I try to recycle as much as i can bit i still have 1 bag full of rubbish a week but i only put my bin out about every 3 weeks that is great compared to about 10 years ago when it went out every week full.
    I hate people not bothering to recycle it irritates me i wish i had Mrs Green living next door to me to ask questions of when i need help with recycling.

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @Kelly: Perfect idea Kelly; that’s exactly what we did at home to make the difference.

    @Steph: Closing the loop is really important to create demand for recycled products. Thanks for the reminder.

    @Shel: Sounds like a lot of fun Shel – what a great way to boost staff morale!

    @Karin: Absolutely; well we helped by dishing out some reusable bags the other day, so let’s see if the idea catches on!

    @Sooz: It must be very frustrating Sooz and like you point out, you can’t exactly take much home without a car! Perhaps it’s time for a visit from Mrs Green!

    @CarSue: Fantastic – well done you; you’ve made such a difference. Can’t believe you are still using up old paper stock!

    @Sandy: Wouldn’t that be nice – a bit like some cities have bikes you can just use and leave for someone else …

    @Tracey: Oh my, that is SUCH a sad story. Can I ask what a SWOT analysis is? I can’t believe your suggestions have been ignored πŸ™

    @Beth: great news on the lab supplies. It’s sure easier when people bring in their own lunch (providing it’s not all wrapped up in plastic of course πŸ˜€ )

    @Penny: Well I might not live next door, but I’m always here and happy to be asked any questions or give you a cheer (or a kick up the bum, depending on which is required πŸ˜‰ )

  12. Jean says:

    Sandy’s comment, ‘When we forget our bags. . . ‘
    I wonder what my mum and my grandma did before these lousy, rotten, earth-destroying plastic bags were invented.
    They took a basket – automatically. There was no alternative.
    I carry a basket, I plonk it on the check-out counter at the local Co-op, but the girl on the till still reaches for a ******** bag from the pile in front of her!

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @Jean: Hi Jean, so true. I remember my Mum always taking a basket or bag when I was a girl; you wouldn’t be dressed without one πŸ˜‰

  14. Tracey says:

    SWOT = Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats:
    Strengths = able to use our current bins but for recycling only
    Weakness = cost of a recycling company
    Opportunity = able to advertise our commitment to being green…

    And I couldn’t think of a threat if we DO recycle – but if we don’t, the threat is our clients finding out we’re a lying scum company and going elsewhere! πŸ˜›

    I did this for a variety of recycling options (with a variety of costs involved), but apparently it’s not enough…

    They’ve upset me with this non-recycled paper = cheaper = better for business theory. Our first batch arrived last week (it’s a recent decision), but the cheaper non-recycled paper comes in non-recyclable waxy-wrapped reams (rather than just wrapped in more recycled and recyclable paper) and uses more of those plastic strips (that are stuck round the boxes) than the recycled stuff, so produces even MORE waste!
    I’m going to be arguing against THIS milarky at the next EMS meeting!

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Tracey: Fab – thanks Tracey. Good luck with your next meeting, you sound suitably fired up to produce a positive result πŸ˜‰

  16. Tracey says:

    You would think – I’ve now been told my boxes look untidy and I’ve got to “move” them…

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @Tracey: Oh dear! Sounds like you’re going to have to stand your corner. Good luck!

  18. Colleen says:

    What a great way to help get people in the mind set of less waste. Every little bit helps no matter how trivial it may seem to some. Job work Mrs Green and good work Angela, Lisa and Dominic.

  19. Mrs Green says:

    @Colleen: Hi Colleen, good to see you – I agree, these tiny steps can add up to make significant impact – as your step by step decluttering shows!

  20. Col says:

    EDF (Electricity De France) energy? Arent they the company that runs many of the Coal and Gas powered energy stations in the UK, and they are responsible for a huge amount of damaging greenhouse gases released in the UK!?
    Trying to save a few plastic carrier bags and containers is similar to King Canute trying to turn the tide back, pointless!
    Much of our recycling ends up in China and India,


    I’m all for making an effort to reduce emissions and encourage sustainable living but many of the ideas have merely been hijacked by big business and government and are used as a convenient smokescreen for much more serious issues.

  21. Jane says:

    @Col: And this is your excuse for not doing what? 1) Any recycling at all 2) No more than you have to/can get away with 3) Something that helps others as well as yourself by improving everyone’s environment

    It is no good just staring at the big picture and not taking some responsibility for your own patch. You might even get a buzz out of it. You are missing out!

    Big oaks from little acorns grow.

  22. col says:


    On the contrary, I run a business recycling drums and containers for re-use that were once making a one way trip to landfill, I also collect waste vegetable oil locally which I convert into biofuel which runs both my diesel vehicles very well. I am a big advocate of recycling by re-use – rather than destroying perfectly good bottles for example, why cannot they be re-used as was always the case?
    If we recycle our household waste then we should look beyond the ‘blue bin’ or whatever and check out what actually happens to this waste? If it ends up many thousands of miles away dumped on second or third world countries then this is a con! and we have to consider that rather than this, our waste could be turned into useful energy from modern energy from waste plants rather than despoiling someone elses country!
    I know for a fact that the recycling from my house goes directly to an MRF (Materials reclaimation facility) a round journey of 60miles or more, then much of this waste is bought by Chinese companies. If we are to recycle our waste then it must be ‘recycled’ into useful products locally or the environmental benefits are not only eroded but can actually be negated and the nett result is, sadly, worse for the environment than even local landfilling!
    It is often stated that if everyone does a little we will achieve a lot, but unfortunately I believe the opposite is true, if we all do a lot very little is actually achieved because of the massive scale of fossil fuels consumed in the world today.
    The worlds population increases by the best part of 200,000 people per day! Every day we consume 85 million barrels of oil, and similar quantities of coal and gas! Even the recyling processes consume high levels of fossil fuels and many of the LCAs (Life Cycle Analysis) have to factor out much of the transportation footprint to make it seem that there is some ‘saving’.
    I personally am very dubious about many of the claims from WRAP, The government and big business about their ‘Green credentials’.

    This is an interesting article published recently:


    I am very keen to participate in anything that will really help in any environmental matter, but sadly I believe we are being told a great deal of lies in order to brainwash ourselves in order to make profit over idealism.

  23. Jane says:

    Hurray you’re not a member of the Grab-Any-Excuse-Not-To-Do-Anything-At-All gang!

    Recycling going to China: We now have UK plastics recycling companies calling out for more – especially good quality food grade plastic. Plastic bottles – all sorts – are especially valuable. We didn’t have these facilities in the UK before (as shown at the end of the clip). Most of us don’t know what our Council’s contracts are for exactly and there’s a lot of politics involved. They work for us though so we should be asking so that we get the best deal – not just the best price. I agree we need to think about what happens to our recycling – but we also need to make sure that we put out what is asked for and present it correctly. If it isn’t clear we need to go back to the Council and ask and ask until they provide good clear information (and update it). Sometimes this means writing to our Councillors We are always being told that contamination reduces the quality. How many Councils are being truthful about what happens? The word “recycling” is being misused. The amount of waste has reduced rather than increase steadily.

    The life-cycle of a plastic carrier bag is interesting but too narrow a concept. Think how plastic carriers came into being as an encouragement to take even more shopping home. “The Perils of Plastic Amnesia” essay had a lovely paragraph on how the supermarkets had come up with more and more ideas on how to get us to buy more and more and still be able to get it home. Your home may not be big enough for the amount delivered – who cares about that? There is a ripple effect when you get more control of food management. There was also no incentive to producers and sellers to improve and reduce packaging until we needed to separate it. You do see fewer trolleys piled high with carrier bags. It is easier to see, carry and unpack your goods from better bags. Plastic carrier bags are used to advertise but they are poor advertising when hanging from trees.

    If you are required to put your residual waste out in a black bin bag then it is easier to line an ordinary metal dustbin with one. A small bin with a handle can easily be emptied into this. If you already separate food waste then you won’t need to line it – or not remove the lining each time it is emptied. You don’t need to line a waste paper basket. There is much more room in a bin if it isn’t full of small carrierbagsful of waste – a bit like filling a jamjar with marbles. If you have a big bin in the kitchen you don’t have an incentive to separate and carrying down a bagful like this /\ to fit into bin like this \/ doesn’t work.

    The waste hierarchy is Reduce Reuse Recycle but I doubt if people would actually have stopped and said they didn’t want to have all this packaging if they hadn’t started to appreciate what was happening when they tried to recycle. This has given an incentive to reduce and reuse (and repair).

    I believe there is still bottle reuse in Scandinavia.

  24. Jane says:

    Post above was rushed reply to Col of course.

    I’ve got an office reusable bag. We also have an Ikea holey thing on the wall so that we can reuse those plastic carrier bags that still manage to creep in the door.

    Excuse: “Bought it on the way to work” (croissants)
    Reply: “Keep an old carrier bag or reusable rollable one in your bag”

    A tin crusher on the wall makes for an exciting and satisfying finish to that can as it drops into a recycling bin in the kitchen. It also reduces the volume of cans substantially.

    This modern habit of eating everywhere and anytime over everything is unhygienic. Putting food in wastepaper bins is disgusting. Keep your food waste for the kitchen bin.

    Take responsibility for your own waste!

  25. Jane says:

    Wales has a free carrier bag ban. These US schoolkids tried to ban carrier bags too because they care: Read about it – http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-plastic-bag-ban-20111108,0,6182287.story

  26. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: That story is a bit of a double edged sword isn’t it? What a brilliant initiative by the students but what a harsh lesson in ‘the real world’ of business…

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