Freeman Cebu Business

Beyond the bag initiative

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos - The Freeman

The transmissibility and lethality of COVID-19 made the world trained its sight solely on this malady. Yes, the vaccine is already available. However, as billions will take such vaccines, production alone has become a big challenge. Consequently, a bidding war ensued. As expected, the wealthy countries won while the poor ones had to either wait for their turn or simply pray for the World Health Organization to intervene.

So that, either due to the lack of morally sound ideas or sheer incompetence, some ne’er-do-well leaders came up with highly questionable strategies. They’ve turned what their countries have (like nurses) as commodities and trade them for the supply of vaccines to rich countries which badly need them. Sadly, we are one of these countries (that is, if there are other countries that went for the same stupid strategy).

Though sad, let’s set aside, for the time being, this dreadful tactic and the deafening uproar it generated. Yes, it is so serious to be set aside but let us not be myopic. There is something of global concern too that no vaccine can prevent and no medical treatment can cure. That’s climate change. 

According to credible scientists, climate change does not only refer to rising temperature. Global warming is just one aspect of it. It talks about extreme weather that is caused largely by carbon dioxide emissions out of the production of fossil fuel and the use of it. 

So that, recently, areas (like Texas, USA) where extremely cold winters are rarely experienced are now covered with several inches of snow. Ironically, just over a month ago, California, USA had to contend with wildfires due to an extremely hot climate. Unsparingly too, just late last year, we were also visited by several supercharged typhoons that came in rapid succession.

One may say, we don’t produce much fossil fuel, so, we aren’t guilty of it. Honestly, we, the global citizens, are all guilty of it. There are just so many of them to enumerate. However, in the interest of space, let us just talk of something we use every day, plastic shopping bags. Just in case you missed it in your science class, plastic bags come from fossil fuel. And if in case you further missed it, according to the United Nations Environment Program, we produce about 300 million tons (almost the weight of the entire human population) of plastic wastes annually.   

To address this concern, “The Beyond the Bag Initiative” was launched. With founding members, CVS Health, Target and Walmart, this initiative “aims to reinvent the single-use plastic retail bag, with the goal of identifying, testing and implementing viable design solutions and models that more sustainably serve the purpose of the current retail bag.” To accelerate innovation, the group launched the “Beyond the Bag Challenge” that attracted more than 450 innovators worldwide. 

Out of these innovators, nine (9) winners were picked just this week. Three winners for each of the following categories:   innovative materials, enabling technology and reuse & refill. While the first two categories entail a lot of cost as modern technology is very much part of it, that of the last category isn’t. For one, the use of reusable bags already existed and largely embraced. The only thing that separates it from what we have is the system and infrastructure that one of the winners, “GOATOTE”, is using. 

With a tagline, “where every use is a reuse”, GOATOTE is a “reusable bag system that gives you access to clean reusable bags no matter how, when, or where you shop.” Its kiosk system allows consumers to access clean, reusable bags anywhere a kiosk is found.

It comes very handy because through a mobile app, anyone can just use his smartphone to access GOATOTE kiosks and return bags within 30 days. Then, GOATOTE collects, disinfects and quality checks bags before entering circulation again.  

With kiosks just like the size of trash bins, these can be spread throughout a certain community for easy collection of used bags, then, to commercial areas for shoppers’ easy access. In us, the local government units (LGUs) may take the lead. At the very least, LGUs will be able to reduce their non-biodegradable wastes, thus, saving on landfill space and labor costs. 

If there is someone who has that entrepreneurial itch, it can be a profitable undertaking too.  After all, saving planet earth isn’t a bad money-making idea.

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