As we reach the tail end of 2017, you’d struggle to find someone that would openly present a good argument against the UK carrier bag tax.
It’s hard to ignore the effectiveness of such a charge. Making people pay a measly 5p for a carrier bag reduced their usage by over 85% in the first 6 months, raising more than £29m for charities and community groups and reducing the amount of plastic bags used by 6bn. That’s some heavyweight environmental impact!
Eco Culture Shift
A few years ago most people weren’t aware that it takes over 1,000 years for the average a household plastic bag to decompose. Now, when you go to the supermarket and forget your bags at home, you can’t help but bring up an image of a swan with a six-pack ring around its neck.
Big shifts in the culture and the impact the media have on us around such issues, force people to think about things in a new way and design problems naturally arise that need solving. This opens up opportunities for us product designers to create innovative products: Bags designed with high-tensile-strength fabric that fold up into a palm sized pouch are now commonplace and sub-opportunities for design companies to capitalise on branding reusable bags with eye-catching designs are form.
The carrier bag tax is just the first step, as our culture becomes more eco-aware, we start to take notice of similar issues such as disposable nappy waste: it’s estimated nearly 8 million nappies are disposed of every day in the UK; that’s 3 billion soiled “disposable” nappies a year!
Sitting around and waiting for the government to do something results in thumb-fingered attempts like Dorset’s “nappy tax”. A charge that clearly affects mostly young families and sparked outrage giving newspapers like the Daily Mail ample opportunity to demonise a (somewhat genuine) attempt to tackle a very real waste issue.
While a move to ask some of our most vulnerable demography to pay additional fees or be threatened with fines is perhaps a recipe for disaster; the success of the carrier bag charge can’t be ignored. New “taxes” are almost certainly in the pipeline. Our product design research indicates disposable coffee cups are next on the government’s hitlist and commuters present a less cute and defenceless (and more lucrative!) target than newborns.
The Coffee Cup Tax
But wait, aren’t coffee cups are made of cardboard? The most easily recyclable material?
Little known to the masses, disposable coffee cups are causing a huge problem, especially as coffee culture rises. In order to make the cups waterproof; a plastic (polyethylene) lining is bonded to the inside of the cups using adhesives and makes them almost completely un-recyclable by normal measures. And in the UK alone we throw away nearly 2.5 billion individual cups a year!
This is where us product designers come into play – how can we design a product that solves this real world issue?
Companies are already taking steps to try and solve this issue: Simply Cups are a company almost single-handedly taking on to tackle the coffee cup waste issue from the tail end of the process, but can’t operate once the cups find their way into the black bag waste and the rest of the mixed recyclables. Companies such as Biopak are using biodegradable plant materials to waterproof the inside of the cups but identification in the sorting process can present an issue.
Solving Chunky Real-world Problems
At Realise Product Design, we love tackling these sorts of crunchy technical design problems. We’re a small team with a big vision.
Can this issue be solved by taking the time to sit back and do some serious design thinking? Can’t every issue?
Watch this space…