Mid-term Review: Plastic Bags Theme – May 9, 2014

Editor’s note: We offered this blog as a platform to the DfG course participants who are documenting the DfG course for readers to get a glimpse of how things went. This is one such post by Plastic bags – communication and education team

Plastic bags

Sub-theme 1: Communication and Education Team

Regis, Elina, Nanako, June

‘The team used the monkey metaphor to explain their concept’

Since the beginning of the course the communication & education team drifted away from the strict focus of plastic bags and tried to understand its role in the whole system.

The team presented the findings and ideas in two parts:

1. Problem space

After their research, the team made the case for a brief redesign to fit the findings and new assumptions. The basic driver for this (and what connects the waste management to the plastic bag theme) is the fact that plastic bags are mainly used by consumers as trash bags.
The team then proposed solution-driven opportunity tripod:


2. Solution space

Their goal is to make the parts of the system around plastic bags and recycling more visible to common people.
The team also presented the target group: HOAS tenants. HOAS is the foundation for student housing in the Helsinki region. The reasoning for this choice was that it is scalable, the solution could impact a lot of people, and it’s an important transition moment in people’s lives.
In one of the building complexes, in Kumpula, the committee has been quite successful in creating a sense of community and ownership (key factors for the approach), making the common issues become more transparent for residents.

They presented their plan for an intervention in one of the events held in Kumpula (May 10th), in which the team proposed to provide free food and observe how these events happen. The food will be provided by stores for free since they would otherwise go to trash due to the approach of the expiration period. Hopefully they can raise conversations related to food and waste management through this brunch.

‘The event posters’

Overall, the successful experiences could propagate through the network with the support from the government and other entities, with an up-scaling strategy.


Feedback Session:

There is also a recycling target in EU, but you have now quite a wide scope. Plastic bags are not recycled now, so maybe that is another thing you could look further into, to improve the recycling of plastics. It’s good that you are focusing on HOAS tenants, but now you should lift up the plastic bags once again. The plastic bag can be used as the lens to see the system and solve problems. Contact the garbage collector firms, because it is interesting that you found them and they probably have some things to say.

“People think that things are being taken care of” – it is true. Check out the subsidy structure in HOAS. Is there room for Ministry of the Environment to say something about it? Can Ministry of the Environment support some of the funding and the Ministry of Education save money, so that there is more justification for this kind of approach?



Sub-theme 2: Littering and Recycling Team

Amanda, Laura, Harri, Heidi, Robyn

The plastic bag littering and recycling team took an explorative and experimental approach to the problem. They noticed that the material flow of plastic bags is not a circular system.

Their “littering video” documents an experiment to see people’s reactions when plastic bags are littered. It was proven that once littered, a plastic bag becomes invisible.

To change this, the team identified three intervention points: prevention of usage, encouraging reuse, and encouraging recycling.

In addition, stakeholders are looking in different directions due to their different drivers. For example, manufacturers think that plastic bags are good, retailers are concentrated on serving the customers, and users have different behaviors such as spontaneity, convenience and social recognition. Last but not least, waste management companies prefer trash to be put in a plastic bag.

In order to reach the common goal of reducing the use of plastic bags, there needs to be a tool for these different stakeholders to communicate. Currently, many assumptions are made between them.

So, the team’s idea is to create various prototypes from different viewpoints:

1. Focusing on retailers

– “Oma kassi”: A faster lane in stores for people who bring their own bag.

– A pantti system can collect plastics to be reused or recycled.

2. Focusing on users
– Testing the “7 days living without plastic bags” probe

‘Sign up and challenge yourself to live without plastic bags!’


Feedback session:

The team has gotten the complexity of the problem, and it is important to focus on the point that there are many assumptions between different stakeholders. This team’s concepts are actually worth scaling if there are these assumptions.

The “Oma kassi” and 7 days probe are very good ideas, the pantti system may be more complicated. A communication tool for decision making is preferable. Check out the start-up “RePack”, and see how they built the system.

Try testing the “Oma kassi” first, since it probably is the easiest to implement, and see if it can be expanded. Also check the OTTO system, because it is amazing that they work for all banks. Do some reality checks and bring up the steps concerning the capability of the ministry and also retailers.



Sub-theme 3: Retail Experience Team

Pietro, Fangyi, Aura, Salla, Katja

The retail experience team is concentrating on the thin plastic bags used for fruits and vegetables, namely HeVi (Hedelmät ja vihannekset) bags. It is a controversial issue now, and there are no regulations for them yet. There is currently a locked circle which supports a culture of continuous consumption. The retail experience team’s goal is to unlock this circle; to first test how ready customers are for the change and to show it to the retailers.

‘The locked circle between consumers and retailers’


Through their field research, they interviewed customers, retailers, manufacturers and also activists in the field. The majority of the people know that he/she should not use HeVi bags, but they have hygienic concerns, norms and habits, and there is a lack of alternatives. Both consumers and retailers think it is part of customer service, and retailers are reluctant in changing before the customers change as well. The activists have been successful in raising awareness through social media, and have started to affect the retailers as well.

They have two types of probes, and their aims are:

1. Help people to reduce use of plastic bags

“Tiesitkö?” (Did you know?) Posters can notify people that there are ways of preventing excess use of HeVi bags. The posters can change these actions to be normal ones.

2. Encourage use of other options

A durable HeVi bag probe will be distributed, and testers will document for one week the usability and feelings of use. Follow up interviews will be conducted.

The team is also documenting their research and findings on their blog.


Feedback session:

It is so that HeVi bags are left out of the scope now, so it would be nice for the ministry to get information about them. It would be also nice to see what happens when you don’t have them at all.

Retailers pay really close attention to what their customers want. This kind of research tells them what customers will want in the future. The problem is: when is the right moment to turn the future into now. Check with the cashier where would be a good place for customers to stick on the barcodes, and get ideas to do this in practice.

The HeVi bag problem is a new topic, and small steps are worthwhile. Make a nice argument that HeVi bags are expensive for them because they are giving them out for free. Can you take harder measures, such as making HeVi bags illegal?

Also the previous team, remember to think about the backfire. Producers might start to wrap everything in plastic before it reaches the customer’s hands.




‘the tutoring session after the midterm presentation’

We would like to thank all of the guests and also the organizers who have come to listen to our mid-term presentations. We students will continue to strive to make our final proposals as insightful and meaningful as possible. Thank you, and see you on the 28th with BIG HAPPY final results!

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