Many grocery stores offer consumers reusable shopping bags these days at .99 a pop, on average, and some retailers have even given them away to do their part to cut down on plastic bag waste.

Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, estimates using just one reusable bag might replace anywhere from 300 to 700 plastic bags per annum, according to The Washington Post. That represents a lot of plastic, a lot of waste and a lot less debris going into the environment.

In order to spur consumers to tote their own reusable bags when food shopping; some communities, Washington, DC among them, have added a nickel tax on disposable bags. So, those consumers who are less environmentally-conscious have likewise begun to use reusable bags—like it or not—to avoid paying the tax. Nothing new here.

Except this: a recent Washington Post article: “Nickel tax on disposable bags prompts people to turn to reusable bags” offered this interesting tidbit: “Local shoppers are assembling a wardrobe of bags that are functional, fashionable or both.”

Reusable bags as a fashion statement? Who knew? As the Post astutely points out: “...the reusable bag is becoming part of popular culture, thanks to a stable of companies that have been churning out hip models.”

This got the designer in me as well as the marketer in me thinking. How can reusable bags be taken from the ranks of the mundane to icons of taste while encouraging commitment to environmental responsibility? It seems to me smart retailers of every stripe—not just grocery chains—have a real opportunity to design such cool bags consumers will keep them in their cars and use them for anything and everything.

That means they’ll be adding to their bag collections, of course. What a great way to market a business. Think about it. Who cares that plastic and paper bags have store imprints on them? Even if they are used once more, they eventually get thrown away, and let’s remember: they hardly look cool. So when stores offer reusable bags, should they look as tired as “paper or plastic?”

One gift shop owner who sells reusable bags in Chevy Chase, Maryland was quoted in the article as saying: “People want fun bags. They are getting tired of the generic printed bags that grocery stores are giving out or selling. Bags are really a fashion statement.” She stated that her Bohemian burlap bags from England with slogan “Take an old bag shopping,” and selling for a whopping $10 each is one of her top sellers!

So how about it?


  • What would you do to take the “basic” factor out of reusable bags and put the “wow” factor in instead?

  • Do you think reusable bags need to have a store logo emblazoned on them to market the retailer’s establishment and a commitment to the environment? Or do you think a distinctive design would create buzz and drive traffic to the retailer?

  • If reusable bag designs do create buzz and traffic for specific retailers, do you think it will necessarily translate to more sales in their stores? Or do you think consumers will likely just purchase the cool bags?

  • What kinds of retailers, other than grocery stores, might benefit from selling reusable bags and encouraging consumers to use them in their outlets?

  • What can retailers do, if anything, to encourage multiple uses for their reusable bags?

I’d love to hear from you.

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Ted Mininni is president and creative director of Design Force, a leading brand-design consultancy.

LinkedIn: Ted Mininni