Time to Tax Plastic Bags

  • Julia Gash
  • 30th September 2015

Eight years ago I had a lingerie shop in Sheffield and every few weeks I would go into the print studio at the back of the store to run off a few hundred cotton tote bags branded with the shop logo. Prior to having the lingerie boutique I’d ran a directional, print led fashion brand and kept my print studio going, albeit on a semi dormant basis.

tote bag

I worked out that the average spend in the shop was £27 and if I gave a free bag to customers who spent £30 then it would push the sales up. It worked and the average sale value increased to £32!  The Gash lingerie boutique bags got spotted all around the country and it wasn’t long before I was asked to print bags for neighbouring businesses.  When customers came in to buy cotton totes rather than knickers I knew it was time to move on from the world of bras to that of bags!

the bidbi team

Since then, the eco-bag manufacturing company I set up in 2008 called BIDBI (Bag It Don’t Bin It), has made and printed cotton and jute bags for retailers, schools, museums, grocery stores and even funeral parlours and pig farms! It turns out that I am not the only one to have been won over by the effectiveness of a sustainable tote bag to market your brand or to put art on your arm!  As such the BIDBI eco-print factory in Sheffield, which employs a team of young people who we have trained up from apprentices to master printers, has just celebrated its 10,000th order!

One of the things that drove me towards setting up BIDBI was the amount of unnecessary waste I saw within the world of retail.  With 224 bags given out every second in the UK I saw at first hand that plastic bag usage in the retail industry was a key problem. Many bags don’t biodegrade and fragment into little pieces, which fish confuse as food and which consequently kills marine life throughout the world. A recent survey* recorded over 48 single-use plastic bags for every km of beach.

Such was my drive towards finding sustainable solutions that I sold my lingerie shop to concentrate on setting up a business that could deliver a sustainable alternative to plastic bags and one with genuine ethical provenance woven into its fabric. We work with fair trade factories in India to produce cotton tote bags, many of which are then printed back in the UK on a 2-week turn around.

workers in an Indian factory

In a few days time, the single-use plastic bag tax will be introduced in England. Similar taxes have already been introduced by regions and countries around the globe, which recognise that there is no legitimate argument to support the case for the plastic bag. They have actually not been in our lives for very long and indeed I am old enough to remember a time when plastic bags did not exist!  As brand positioning is key it poses a question for businesses as to why they would want to continue to promote their brand on a product that pollutes. 

The zeitgeist of the 21st Century revolves around sustainability and nothing typifies this more than the humble, cotton tote bag. Canvas been used for centuries as an artists medium as well as being strong enough to sail ships. As a sustainable crop, it’s also cheap as chips and unlike the world of luxury handbags, it does not exclude. 

It’s time to move on to the new IT bag! There are many effective and sustainable alternatives to plastic bags; we simply need to use them. Living without plastic bags will be like having smoke free pubs and bars and as with the smoking in public ban, it won’t be long before we question why we put up with such bad habit for so long.


Julia Gash

Company Director

Bag It Don’t Bin It Ltd