Shameful plastic bag stunt backfires

embarrassing plastic bags stunt backfires
[Image: East West Market]

Last week, we reported that a grocery store in Vancouver – East West Market – had come up with a novel way to discourage plastic bag use. It had printed supposedly 'shameful' slogans, such as 'the colon care coop' and 'Dr Toeurs' wart ointment', on its five-cent plastic bags in a bid to stop people buying them.

We thought this seemed like a great idea, but predicted it might backfire. The bags are so good-looking we thought people would want to buy them. And guess what? We were right. 

With style-conscious consumers flocking to the shop to pick up their own embarrassing carriers, it seems the net effect of the scheme won't be as environmentally beneficial as intended. The owner of East West Market, David Lee Kwen, told the Guardian that some customers were keen to collect the designs – which include some rather stylish typography (see our roundup of retro fonts to copy the look). Many of them were doing so "because they love the idea of it," said Kwen. 

Despite this, he claimed the scheme is working: "Even if you have the bag, you have to explain its origin to your friends. And then, we’ve started a conversation." And of course, this is all just happens to be good publicity for East West Market.

embarrassing plastic bags

One of the 'shameful' bag designs [Image: East West Market]

We also thought that one way to get round people wanting the bags would be to print the designs on canvas bags instead of plastic ones. And again, our predictions came true, as Kwen plans to do just that.

"It’s a double-edged sword," he said of the scheme. "We wanted to address an issue, but we’ve also made something popular, so it’s turned out great."

But it's not all been positive for East West Market. Some have pointed out that the store uses a lot of plastic in its other packaging. When East West Market posted an image of two customers who had chosen to carry their groceries instead of using a bag on Facebook (see below), many of the comments focused on the amount of plastic used to wrap the goods. 

It seems that becoming 'environmentally friendly' or campaigning to reduce plastic in your business is not as simple as many imagine. It also goes to show that if you can produce and design something beautiful related to plastic use, if nothing else, you'll at least get people talking.

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Rosie Hilder

Rosie Hilder is Creative Bloq's Deputy Editor. After beginning her career in journalism in Argentina – where she worked as Deputy Editor of Time Out Buenos Aires – she moved back to the UK and joined Future Plc in 2016. Since then, she's worked as Operations Editor on magazines including Computer Arts, 3D World and Paint & Draw and Mac|Life. In 2018, she joined Creative Bloq, where she now assists with the daily management of the site, including growing the site's reach, getting involved in events, such as judging the Brand Impact Awards, and helping make sure our content serves the reader as best it can.