Exercise: Too many carrier bags
“A number of complaints from residents have recently featured in a local newspaper, picking up on the amount of discarded carrier bags at a nearby beauty spot. Local businesses are worried about the implication of this bad publicity for their trade. They want you to respond to the issues and offer a range of solutions to fix the problem. Use this situation to run through the creative processes described so far:”
Identifying the problem
- Analyse the brief by unpicking the issues involved. What’s the problem?
The problem is litter being dropped in the wrong place. The consequences are that a local beauty spot is ‘spoilt’; this is likely to impact on the area in several ways: endangering wildlife and causing less people to visit. If carrier bags are discarded, this implies that more rubbish will accumulate. Local businesses are aware of the problem and concerned about negative publicity.
- Identify what research you need to do to inform your thinking and awareness of the issues. What questions do you need to ask?
- What is the environmental impact of the carrier bags – what effect does plastic have on the local wildlife? How many months/years does it take for a bag to rot? If water is present, does that plastic leech into that water and with what effects?
- Does some littering inevitably lead to further littering, and a downward spiral? What other items might appear along with these bags? Are there increased dangers to the environment?
- What about child safety – how dangerous is it for children to play in this area? Obviously due to the bags, but also from other rubbish?
- What is the damage to wildlife and the ecosystem?
- Is there also a potential risk to domestic or farm animals nearby?
- Based on research, what are the most common causes of littering (if known?) Do the location or number of litter bins, make a difference? What have other communities done to tackle this problem both here and globally? Are there any demographics relating to littering?
- Where is this beauty spot in relation to the high street? Have the business owners considered there may be less footfall to the area if less people visit?
- How do we balance the needs and concerns of everyone involved? Who is funding this project? What is the budget? Businesses, local council or someone else? How can the community get involved in this? Which organisations can be consulted? Local business groups? Schools? Charities? Are there any volunteers? What sort of publicity/advertising (digital or real world) is available? Has anything like this been done before? What can we learn from that?
My thoughts and ideas:
- Think about how you creatively go about solving the problems you’ve identified. What ideas can you come up with?
Fines – what are the penalties for dropping litter? Is this futile? Does awareness/education help? Carrot or stick approach? Or both?
Rewards – are there any rewards for collecting bags or disposing of them properly? Why should I bother?
What is the value of carrier bags to the user and third parties? (Interestingly, since the UK government introduced compulsory charging for bags, they have now become like gold dust so I’ll have assume this brief was written a while ago.)
Who needs bags? Charity shops, dog walkers – who else?
Idea 1: Can we make rubbish bins easier to spot and more appealing?
a) Is it possible to get permission for local children to decorate them?
b) How about a design competition?
c) Sign posting? Posters? Arrows?
Idea 2: Can we collect bags for dog walkers to re-use?
a) what about bins to collect carrier bags that dog walkers can then use to pick up poo? This could be displayed alongside the existing dog poo bins. Probably everyone at some point has forgotten poo bags – this would be useful!
b) how about a doggy mascot – perhaps based on a real life friendly dog to spread awareness and ask people to deposit bags to help out? (Something like the very well behaved dogs that go into care homes to cheer people up).
Idea 3: Can we collect bags for charity?
a) Some charities drop new plastic bags through our letter box asking for clothing, books, toys etc that they can collect and sell on. What about collecting and re-using carrier bags?
b) Do charities need more bags when they sell items to customers?
Idea 4: Education
a) Is there any wildlife at this beauty spot that particularly appeals to people? Lets face it, furry or cute is better. If some poor animal’s life or health is in danger, people may empathise and act more responsibly.
b) My research has indicated that a carrier bag can have a life span of a 1000 years. Would you like to hang around for 1000 years? Could this be expanded into an educational tool?
Idea 5: Can we spread the word about re-cycling more effectively?
a) What if we knew bags were worth collecting because they can be recycled and used to make new items such as clothing?
b) Can we create a hubs to collect them, with a reminder about what they might be used for?
Idea 6: Can we cut down on the use of carrier bags?
a) Is excess packaging being used? What are people buying that causes them to discard the bag before getting home? If so can we launch an awareness campaign?
b) Shop owners need to sell items, and the public like to shop. It seems best to avoid blame in this transaction. Sales of goods aren’t dependant on the use of carrier bags, so can we encourage a ‘bring a bag’ campaign for local independent shops? Better designed bags are more often kept and re-used. What about some ‘bags for life’ that are a bit more funky and something you really want to keep? These could be sold at multiple outlets.
c) Paper bags are easier to recycle (although they aren’t necessarily environmentally friendly to manufacture) If the unit costs are workable for the retailer can we encourage this instead?
Idea 7: Events and social media
Taking in all of the above, I think it would work well to organise a campaign that shows the retailers have listened to the residents concerns, and simultaneously get some positive publicity/advertising to counteract the negative newspaper article. This could include forging links with community groups, schools and charities.
a) Environmental awareness day – held in the town centre, increasing footfall and spreading info about green issues
b) Volunteer litter picking – perhaps a competition for the largest volume of litter collected gets a prize. Local business organisation gives out the prize
c) Carrier bag man, woman or animal. Ever seen a huge ball of elastic bands? This is an invite for people to bring their carrier bags and create a giant figure. Maybe beat the world record (if there is one) Lets say a lot of cute mice are accidentally ingesting scraps of plastic – what about a giant mouse??
I googled litter prevention and stumbled across this comment originally from the Franklin County Times (USA) – ‘What could be more innovative and catchy than mixing music and litter prevention in one event? N Harmony with Nature (NHWM) has proven that music is a powerful mover for people to act in contributing to a litter-free environment.’
Well, you get the idea, an event that people enjoy that raises awareness or funds and allows the community to pull together. I think a good name would be the 1000 year festival/campaign – you remember this is the estimated life span of a carrier bag. Any of the above could be advertised on social media and in shops.
- Reflect on your proposals from a range of different viewpoints. How can these help move your ideas forward?
I think some of these ideas have potential, and it might also be possible to combine some of them too. Probably the weakest is the link to charity shops. The strongest ideas are maybe making bins eye catching and fun, and the holding an event.
Hopefully I have already considered what would make the residents feel heard, what kids would enjoy participating in, and what would give positive publicity for business.
- Take a critical perspective. Can you identify larger issues than the immediate ones set out in the brief? Do you have any radical solutions to solve these issues? Use loose-leaf worksheets or your sketchbooks to record your creative process and to summarise your findings. Reflect on the process. What has this exercise told you about your approach to responding to briefs?”
I think its clear that issue is part of a larger subject about how much packaging we use, how we look after the environment and each other.
Weirdly I think the government has already come up with quite a neat solution by charging for bags. Its rare that you can say politicians come up with answers. I shop online with Tesco, and always used to tick the option ‘no bags’, only to find I was usually still swamped with them. There are a lot less now!
I’m not sure I have any radical solutions, I’ve already strayed into some very amateurish attempts at PR, so I think I’m out of ideas at the moment!!
What has this exercise told you about your approach to responding to briefs?
I quite like the challenge of tackling the planning stage of briefs – if this was to progress further, it would need a lot more work, but throwing up questions and ideas is interesting. If this was an actual brief I would seek more contact with the business owners who approached me, and hopefully other interested parties, to clarify whether I’m going in a good direction. And what are their expectations for this project? I’m not sure what to say about my approach; I put a lot of thought into it and tried to be as broad as possible. (My thought processes continued to develop as I was typing up this blog – the act of ‘doing’ always seems to lead to more ideas). Have I been broad enough? Well, I’ve tried, but there’s aways room for more! I’d love to come up with some stunning or amazingly original ideas but I think thats aiming a bit high?! I made my brain hurt. I think thats effort enough.