Inspect the contents of an average bag of groceries and you will find that there is way more plastic around the products inside the bag than there is in the carrier bag itself. The plastic milk bottle, the plastic honey jar, the plastic bag of rice, the plastic wrapped chicken and the plastic wrapped cheese all add up to far more plastic than the plastic used to make the carrier bag.

Why then is there such an uproar about plastic carrier bags? In order to solve the plastic pollution problem, it seems obvious to anyone who thinks about it that, in addition to making consumers feel guilty about using plastic bags, the product manufacturers need to be forced into using far less plastic in their product packaging. This would really go a long way to solving the plastic pollution problem.
In the big picture, the pollution from plastic carrier bags is negligible compared to the pollution caused by the plastic in product packaging itself. If we’re honest, going after consumers to get them to stop using plastic carrier bags is nothing more than token gesture and blatant virtue signalling by retailers. If they were genuinely concerned about the plastic pollution problem, they would be going after the product manufacturers to force them to find alternatives to plastic packaging.

Although it is vitally important for brands to demonstrate good moral principles, they need to do so in ways that are perceived not only to be admirable, but in ways which actually work. Being seen to be doing good things is not the same as doing good things. It does not take too long for consumers to realise when a brand is making shallow, sycophantic attempts to ingratiate itself to them rather than to make a real change. Ultimately, this kind of virtue signalling does much more harm than good to a brand’s reputation.
Climbing onto bandwagons, echoing popular beliefs, groupthink and following the herd is not the stuff of real brand differentiation. This is because most brands are doing and saying these same things. Brands are only noticed and admired by consumers when they do and say meaningful, unique and different things. The ones who do this are the leaders and the rest are the followers.
Undoubtedly, plastic pollution is a major problem, but cajoling consumers to stop using plastic bags will only solve a small part of the problem. For this reason, it is a useless way for any brand to try to differentiate itself. When all things are considered, tackling the plastic pollution problem in a big and meaningful way is the only way for a brand to achieve differentiation at the same time as actually helping solve a serious problem facing the planet.

For consumers, it’s a case of “stop telling us how noble you are and start impressing us with some decisive action.”

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