You can fight plastic pollution by ending single-use produce bags

This Q&A is brought to you by Deb Singer and Karin Heck, co-founders of BRINGiT, a non-profit organization fighting to reduce plastic pollution from produce bags by 70% by 2025.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

In summary: BRINGiT is the only organization currently fighting plastic pollution through focusing on produce bags. They aim to make single-use plastic produce bags a thing of the past and tell you how you can get involved, both in your own home and through their organization. Here's Deb and Karin, BRINGiT's founders!

DEB SINGER: I’ve been a part of the zero-waste movement since 2003, focusing on the reusable bag space. After leading the charge of the banning of plastic shopping bags at Whole Foods Market in 2007, I continued to work with leading reusable bag manufacturers to design, implement, merchandise, and scale cutting-edge bag solutions at leading retailers across the US. In 2020, alongside Karin Heck, I launched BRINGiT, the first and only nonprofit to focus solely on eliminating plastic produce bags.

KARIN HECK: For over 20 years, I’ve worked as a leader in operational excellence and revenue generation in nonprofits. I’ve led successful initiatives and teams for nonprofits such as MoMA, CalAcademy, and Stanford, as well as for-profit organizations such as Coach and P&G. I consider myself a future-builder, where I nurture, lead, and influence people and process improvements, which empowers organizations to grow and scale effectively. With BRINGiT, we are changing consumer behavior and creating innovative solutions to make plastic produce bags a thing of the past.

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Tell us about BRINGiT and why you decided to tackle plastic bags.

DEB: After leading the charge to have Whole Foods Market ban plastic bags, I have been obsessed with eliminating them completely. Plastic produce bags are an insidious and large contributors to plastic pollution. Even though it is a 66-billion-bag problem, it was hidden in plain sight. Because no other organization has yet focused on it, Karin and I created BRINGiT. We know we can win the fight to eradicate plastic produce bags and replace them with a compostable reusable alternative. Our solution works seamlessly for major retailers, and as soon as one brand eliminates plastic produce bags, it will create a ripple effect.

What informed your approach to building BRINGiT?

DEB: There are many worthy organizations across the nation and the world that are working on solutions to the pressing issue of plastic pollution. We see BRINGiT as a convener and collaborator in this space. We’ve outlined four strategies, which when enacted together will create the lasting change needed:

  1. Building consumer awareness and activism,
  2. Partnering for legislative action,
  3. Developing retail partnerships to replace single use plastic with reusables, and
  4. Providing a better reusable alternative to support consumer behavior change.

Prior to cofounding BRINGiT, in my 18+ years working with retailers, delivering reusable bag solutions led me to conclude that simply adding products to the marketplace was not sufficient to shift consumer behavior. No matter how many great bags we introduced to retailers, the habit of single use continued. A more complete solution was needed. Until we are able to effectively shift behavior, real and lasting change is not possible. This fueled the development of our 4 strategies.

BRINGiT is the first to offer consumers a complete shopping solution of compostable reusables. We use a groundbreaking, ultra-sustainable material, and our designs build on consumer research about what makes bags the most useful, comfortable, and memorable.

KARIN: We’ve sought out input from hundreds of actors in the sustainability and nonprofit space about the best approach to eradicate plastic produce bags. Following our launch in the spring of 2020, we also ran a national, quantitative study to better understand consumers, including how responsive and supportive they would be to BRINGiT’s strategies.

We uncovered that across the nation, about 80% of respondents currently use single-use plastic produce bags when shopping for produce. After these participants learned about the problems they cause, 75% were likely to support a plastic produce bag ban, 60% were willing to sign petitions such as BRINGiT’s latest, and 65% wanted to buy an alternative, such as BRINGiT’s compostable reusable bags. We found it surprising that these results were consistent across age groups, gender, and household incomes.

What are compostable reusables?

KARIN: BRINGiT is bringing the next generation of reusables to the market: compostable reusables. Constructed from LENZING™  modal fiber, our bags are made from FSC certified beechwood. Available in the U.S. exclusively through BRINGiT, the bags are home compostable, tear-resistant, and comfortable to carry. There are plenty of reusable options out there, but as we developed an alternative, we wanted it to provide a closed-loop solution. We believe compostable reusables are the future for all current disposable products.

Tell us more about why BRINGiT is unique.

DEB: We are the only organization focused on getting rid of plastic produce bags and are taking a holistic approach with our four strategies. We have seen that when these strategies work together, they rapidly create lasting consumer behavior change. As we build awareness and pursue legislative change, we are uniquely positioned to also offer a proven solution that is easy to implement on both a large and small scale.

Are there other organizations tackling plastic waste on a similar scale? If yes, how is BRINGiT different? If no, why doesn't this already exist?

DEB: There are so many organizations focused on plastic pollution in all its forms, from environmental impact and waste to legislation and advocacy, but not one has focused on produce bags. When we can help others understand the scale of the problem, then it becomes more real, and we can better address it. This is what we set out to do with BRINGiT.

What is the best way to support BRINGiT? How can people volunteer to help make large-scale change?

KARIN: We’re currently collecting signatures to petition Whole Foods to remove plastic produce bags from their stores. Signing that is a great first step. Next, if you haven’t already - invest in a reusable grocery shopping system. You only need one. With many options out there, be sure to consider the lifecycle of your bags.

DEB: Next time you are grocery shopping, take photos of the packaging and plastic you see at the store and what you end up taking home. Posting these images on social media raises awareness among your friends and family, helping to teach others that additional plastic is not necessary. Tag the retailer and organizations like BRINGiT to help push change on a large scale and help connect these retailers to our solution.

KARIN: And finally, we offer volunteer opportunities! We work with individuals to build sustainable positions around people’s interests, skillset, and BRINGiT's needs.

Other than BRINGiT, what are some of your favorite tools and resources for fighting plastic pollution?

KARIN: Environment America, Break Free From Plastic, the Plastic Pollution Coalition and UPSTREAM all have great resources to look at all aspects of plastic pollution. We are also inspired by initiatives that are working to make grocery shopping and food delivery completely zero waste.

As consumers get better and better at using reusables, there remains a need to make products with materials that are better for the environment from cradle to grave. Compostable reusables will be the next big thing to not only replace single use plastic, but also this category of products will lead the charge as the most sustainable reusables available.

What is one thing you wish more people understood about the movement for a more sustainable future?

KARIN: The movement can often feel large and overwhelming, but with so many great product alternatives, making sustainable change is easy, and each substitution adds up to make an impact.

Any advice for people who are new to the fight against climate change or aren't sure what their place is?

KARIN: Start with one thing. Switching to reusable shopping bags and produce bags is a great place to start. To help form these habits, we recommend starting with produce bags and build from there.

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

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Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google