By now, we’ve all got a cabinet full of cloth or vinyl tote bags that we (try to) take to the grocery store and beyond, so that we don’t use more plastic in our everyday lives than we absolutely need. This humble alternative bag started out as string market bags, then progressed to canvas and sewn-cloth carriers, then exploded when retailers decided to use these recycled bag alternatives to promote their products.
The real increase in usage of reusable bags, in my mind, was the decision by Whole Foods to stop using plastic bags on Earth Day 2008. Instead, they gave out colorful, vinyl bags to encourage their shoppers to make the switch to a reusable, and since then have sold bags with celebrity and other tie-ins.
When bag manufacturers started making cloth bags available to even the smallest stores, so that their logo could be imprinted, bags as marketing vehicles became commonplace and competitive.
This weekend I attended the Denver Botanic Gardens Holiday Sale, and realized that the marketing cycle has now come full circle. There were many booths featuring gifts from recycled materials and mittens made from old sweaters; although the woman selling mesh bags for produce was missing. In her place was a family enterprise that uses street banners and turns them into consumer products.
Lyziwraps is a company conceived by an 8th-grader for an innovation competition a few years ago. Her idea was to make an alternative to paper gift wrapping with bags made of used street banners. Lyzi’s motivation was hearing that Americans annually produce 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and New Years than any comparable period during the remainder of the year. According to an article on the Easy Ways to Go Green blog, 80% of this additional waste comes from wrapping paper, shopping and gift bags.
The product line has grown from recyclable gift wrap to one-of-a-kind computer cases, cosmetics bags, tote bags and even contemporary prayer flags! The banners are donated by local museums, film festivals, ski resorts and businesses. Patagonia further helps the effort by donating the webbing for handles and tape for the zipper closures.
As I looked at each of the products displayed, I fondly recalled many of the Denver exhibits on the former banners. At the same time, I recalled how guilty I’ve always felt as a marketer by throwing those non-reyclable, PVC-vinyl promotion banners in the trash, knowing they’d wind up in the landfill. But no more!
From virgin marketing materials, street banners now have a new life as marketing memorabilia and artsy new products.
As marketers (or innovators like Lyzi) what else can we turn from trash to treasure while keeping the marketing cycle turning full circle?