Empowering Change: Bags Not
July 19, 2018
Words & Photos: Icebreaker
The Bags Not campaign is connecting New Zealanders to the global movement towards reducing harmful plastics in our environment. Using the Kiwi phrase, ‘bags not’, a way of opting out of something you don’t want to do, it’s about empowering people to say no to single-use plastic bags. We caught up with founders James Blackwood, of advertising agency bcg2, and Nick Morrison, of Go Well Consulting, on their journey to inspiring change.
James Blackwood: I met Nick after he sent a letter to the minister of the environment; an impassioned plea to take a stance and do something about the future of New Zealand and the environment. It outlined the facts in detail and made me realise what a tipping point we could be on. I’m passionate about the wellbeing of our environment, and I was incredibly moved and inspired by Nick’s knowledge and passion.
Nick Morrison: I’d been campaigning around plastic bags for a while, but it had been an isolated mission. When I wrote the letter, and then I met James, his enthusiasm and validation for what I was trying to achieve was huge. And it was so cool to see how his team wanted to use their talent and skills to do good.Why plastic bags?
James: When Nick said, all you need to do is use a plastic bag twice and you’ve reduced the environmental footprint by half, to me that was a watershed moment. Just use something twice and you’ve taken responsibility for improving the environment by 50% more than you did before. That’s how easy it is to make a difference. We saw that the fastest way to enable change was to start with the corporate sector, the likes of [supermarket chain] New World, engage with them, and then get buy-in from the public to form a social contract between the public and the retail sector.
“All you need to do is use a plastic bag twice and you’ve reduced the environmental footprint by half, to me that was a watershed moment.”
James: ‘Bags not’ is our Kiwi term for opting out of something we don’t want to do. So the campaign is about getting consumers to say ‘bags not’ to single-use plastic bags and instead use recyclable or reusable bags when they go to the supermarket. It’s based on the five Rs of reducing your footprint on the environment: Refuse, replace, recycle, reuse, restore. That’s the gateway for us to get people to think about plastic waste.
Nick: The whole ‘diseased state’ and shock sort of stuff hasn’t been working. We wanted to empower people to be part of a positive solution.So, saving the planet, one plastic bag at a time? How has Bags Not had an effect so far?
James: We’re seeing more reusable bags going into supermarkets and less plastic bags coming out. People making their own bags, reusing pillowcases, cloths. There’s a movement of people taking responsibility and doing things themselves.
Nick: It’s been really cool to see the conversation change on Facebook. People sharing the changes they’re making. The website has also become a place for people to share their wins – we’re seeing little pockets of ownership.
“In nature, everything biodegrades back into carbon, nitrogen and water and keeps on in the circle of life. Plastic is a synthetic material that nature doesn’t know how to deal with.”
“The more I do it, the more I enjoy doing it. There’s enormous companionship in people being aware of the impact they’re making personally. There’s a good vibe around doing it and it makes you feel good.”
Nick: We need to wake up to the facts a bit in New Zealand. We’ve got a beautiful country and a small population. We’re a wealthy country with great infrastructure. But we produce a lot of waste per person. And it gets taken away and hidden overseas for other people to deal with. Which makes it hard for people to see the problem in their day-to-day lives.We now have access to soft-plastic recycling in New Zealand. How does this fit in?
Nick: Recycling is a short-term solution. It’s taking plastic and changing it into a different shape. But it’s still plastic. It won’t biodegrade. In nature, everything biodegrades back into carbon, nitrogen and water and keeps on in the circle of life. Plastic is a synthetic material that nature doesn’t know how to deal with. The bigger message here is to reduce the waste in the first place. If we don’t have the waste then we don’t have that problem.What steps are you taking in your own lives to be more sustainable?
James: I’ve been forming new habits: minimising waste at home; composting; using honey-waxed wraps instead of cling film. The more I do it, the more I enjoy doing it. There’s enormous companionship in people being aware of the impact they’re making personally. There’s a good vibe around doing it and it makes you feel good.
Nick: I’m aware of the impact of agriculture, which is a tricky subject in New Zealand. It’s such a big part of our culture, the farming sector. Not cutting it out – I don’t take an extreme view of ‘no dairy, no meat products’ – I just don’t eat as much of it. And I only wear natural fibers now. I didn’t want to be part of the whole micro-plastics problem.How important is nature to you? How do you connect with it and find balance?
James: It sets the compass for how I feel about everything – my relationships, my family – it reminds me how lucky I am to be alive. It’s the most important thing. I surf; surfing is a great way to be at one with nature and it’s a great way to take a moment to be thankful. It keeps me centred.
Nick: In the weekend I went out to the Waitakere Ranges with my partner and we walked up to the Falls there and then we sat on the beach and it’s just that appreciation of what nature is and how incredible it is. Everything is designed to be in balance. The reason we have global warming, plastics in the ocean, is because we’re throwing out nature’s balance.
James: The sun’s still coming up, the sun’s still going down. There’s plenty of good stuff. People don’t need to beat themselves up, they just need to make some simple choices. It’s being mindful. That’s all it takes.
Nick: It’s a journey.
James: And we’re all in it together.