Proposal Paper: “Do You Really Need That Plastic Bag For Your Shopping?”

The following sample English research proposal is 2707 words long, in MLA format, and written at the undergraduate level. It has been downloaded 215 times and is available for you to use, free of charge.

Audience Analysis

The current audience is constituted of a selection of local, small-business owners. Most of these business owners are retail store owners, who offer plastic bags as standard in their stores. It is likely that these business owners will have some awareness and sympathy for the case of reducing plastics, given the fact that some retail stores do already encourage customers to utilize reusable bags by making them readily available for purchase at the point of sale. However, this proposal calls for more drastic changes, and so it is likely that these small business owners may be a little reluctant to remove the convenience of the plastic bag from their shop, in case it dissuades custom.

Therefore, it will be important to emphasize the many gains that small business owners can achieve by implementing responsible environmental changes (for example: positive brand development, cohesion with the local community) and that, if anything; sales could actually indirectly improve as a result of the proposed actions. It is also important to emphasize, through a mix of factual and emotive language, the real damage that is caused by current levels of plastic bag usage, thereby appealing to the moral conscience and compelling these small-business owners to consider making changes to their businesses.

Workshop Evaluation

After extensive revision of this piece, it became clear that the proposal did not adopt a persuasive enough tone. Therefore clauses were added in order to encourage the reader to share deeply in ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ relevant to the proposal. Key concepts were described in rich detail and the reader was invited to really engage with the proposed idea, with bold, authoritative statements such as; “It is truly exciting to imagine what this small change could achieve.”

Secondly, it became clear that some of the elements of the argument did not flow particularly well and that elements of the argument appeared repetitive. Therefore, I made bullet points of all the individual points of the proposal, and then took the time to arrange them into chronological order. This helped to build up the proposal slowly, keeping the reader's interest, and engaging them in much the same way that a suspenseful narrative might. This suspense was also achieved by presenting an amalgamation of long and then short sentences, where necessary.

Finally, I re-engaged with my target audience and really considered what they would want to hear in a prospective proposal. I then made a concerted effort to relate the argument back to how the prohibition of plastic bags could enhance, and improve their business, in order to try and provide an inspirational and highly relevant proposal.

Executive Summary

With a fast-growing population, it is pertinent to consider how to properly dispose and recycle the daily waste products of our modern lifestyle (NRDC 2013). Many individuals are now prepared to take personal responsibility for recycling their bottles, cans, and cardboard, and it is admirable to appreciate the extent to which local governments have implemented a relatively straightforward recycling system. However, it is worrying to consider that one of the primary materials of our modern-day is nearly impossible to recycle effectively; thus the persistent use of plastic is agonizing to many. Regrettably, the prolific usage of the plastic bag is somewhat understandable; given the convenience, it offers to a modern lifestyle centered upon consumerism, speed and comfort of service.

Retailers are slowly beginning to acknowledge that along with these modernist luxuries, one needs to be considering how best to protect and sustain the surrounding environment. More needs to be done to phase out the dangerous and destructive plastic bag; though clearly, the challenge is in trying to achieve this end without losing the irresistible convenience and ease which the plastic bag offers the hurried consumer (Williams, 2004). This proposal suggests that there are viable steps retailers can achieve to reduce and eventually prohibit the use of plastic bags, without causing any adverse effects to their sales figures. It is argued that small business owners have a privileged and agented position in this journey and that they should be brave enough to initiate grassroots lifestyle changes in order to protect the planet. The most promising strategy is to invest in the research and production of biodegradable bags, seen as these seem likely to satisfy the modernist desire for convenience, and also gratify the common-sense desire for a healthy and sustainable environment for our children.

The scope of the problem: What does it have to do with small business owners? In general terms, the usage of plastic bags is becoming an extremely worrying concern for anyone wishing to protect their local and global environments. It has been estimated that worldwide; between five hundred billion and one trillion plastic bags are used each year. Less than three percent of these bags are recycled (Root 2011).

So, what happens to all of these plastic bags once they have fulfilled their transitory use? It is likely that they will end up in landfills, where they will take approximately hundreds of years to decompose. Plastic does not decompose in the same way as raw or organic materials; plastic simply breaks down into smaller substances which can be extremely hazardous to the soil, and local wildlife (Williams 2004). Many plastic bags do not even make it to landfills, and it is the irresponsible disposal of plastic which poses another threat to wildlife; aggravating and sometimes choking the marine life who mistake disposed plastic for food (Derraik 2002). No one is questioning the brilliant convenience of the plastic bag, but at the same time, no one can easily ignore these inconvenient truths. The price to pay for the convenience of a plastic bag is huge and is a trade-off that is becoming less and less viable in our ever populating world.

All these facts and statistics concerning plastic usage globally may seem a little too generalized; but the reality is that plastic bag usage is a huge environmental concern internationally, nationally and locally. Therefore, it should be a personal concern on everybody’s agenda. Every five seconds, 60,000 plastic bags are used in America alone (Root, 2011). Whilst some stores in the USA have banned plastic bags, there is no state-wide or country-wide law enforcement on this issue. Globally, countries such as Ireland and Bangladesh have, however, placed a firm ban on plastic bags. More needs to be done to reduce the usage of plastic bags in the USA; often a good way to start is by looking at one’s own local neighborhood. In fact, the contention here is that the best place to start is with intervention from small, local businesses.

Many industry professionals have acknowledged that the small local business is extremely important to not only the local economy but also towards supporting the collective sense of identity of a local community (HSBC, 2012). As Brown writes; “While small businesses may not generate as much money as large corporations, they are a critical component of and a major contributor to the strength of local economies. Small businesses present new opportunities and serve as the building blocks of the United States” (Brown 2012). If local businesses can be thought to act as the building blocks of a wider national economy then it seems right that these businesses should pursue innovative, individual, and environmentally responsible business methods. In fact, the microcosmic small business seems like the perfect arena to initiate positive environmental change. Given that the over-usage of plastic is currently one of the major environmental concerns, it is strongly recommended that small businesses should lead by example and implement strategies to prohibit the usage of plastic bags within their establishments.

It has been found that businesses are perceived as more favorable if they are seen to be environmentally conscious. Moreover, employees are more likely to want to stay with a business that is environmentally friendly (HSBC, 2012). These important points should be remembered closely. It is comprehensible that some businesses would shy away from prohibiting plastic bag use, or charging a fee for plastic bags, out of fear that this action might drive customers away. However, the gains described above are likely to highly benefit the business in the long run, especially if marketing is in place to describe exactly why plastic bags have no place there. The proposal is that being environmentally friendly can have huge gains for any business, through the image they promote, the social responsibility they convey, and the sales figures they achieve through loyal customers keen to revel in the achievements of a morally responsible company. The implementation of a plastic bag charge in other countries has resulted in up to an 80% reduction in plastic bag usage (Smith 2012) suggesting that consumers’ lifestyle changes can be implemented relatively easily. In fact, the introduction of stylish reusable ‘bags-for-life’ has actually satisfied a niche business opportunity. There is no convincing argument to suggest that reusable bags are inconvenient, given that many now fit easily into small handbags or back pockets.

So, it is likely that this innovative move could improve many aspects of a small business, from improving the company image of environmental responsibility, to indirectly increasing local interest and sales takings. Of course, it is not only the business that would benefit, but these benefits would fan out to include the local, national and eventually the international community. A reduction in plastic bags would result in less pollution to our landfills and oceans - thereby reducing the need for ocean cleanup operations. This ultimately makes for a cleaner and healthier environment. When less plastic bags are being produced, more petroleum is freed up, meaning that this non-renewable energy source has an increased life span. It is truly exciting to imagine what this small change could really do to protect and prolong our shared environment.

The UK government has proposed a plastic bag tax to be introduced nationally by 2015 (NRDC 2012) and with other countries following suit it only seems a matter of time before plastic bags will be a thing of the past. It, therefore, seems both responsible and forward-thinking for small businesses to take the lead and start implementing these changes now. It is far better to embrace this gradual change in tide, rather than fight against it. By coming up with innovative solutions and strategies, small businesses can effectively convince consumers to steer clear of the plastic bag and to move comfortably forward towards a more sustainable shopping experience. It is difficult to see what could be lost from removing plastic bags from small business stores, and clearly evident to imagine all the many possible gains to be had from this action!

The solution is ‘in the bag!’ What you can do to help. There are a few different pathways which could be implemented in order to eliminate plastic bag usage in small retail outlets. These various approaches will be detailed here but it is argued that a combination of two methods is likely to be most effective in the successful reduction of plastic bag usage (whilst sustaining positive and/or improved business outcomes).

Some large department stores have imposed an absolute ban on plastic shopping bags, a move that has been largely accepted by customers (Smith 2012). The data on small businesses is less widely available, though given that many small businesses thrive on loyal and repeat local customers it is highly likely that customers would be supportive of change, especially if the change is positive and environmentally conscious. However, even those who are generally very environmentally conscious and responsible would admit that very occasionally, when they have forgotten to carry a reusable bag, the plastic bag offers a type of convenience and luxury which, if not available at all, would be incredibly frustrating. This type of criticism does have to be acknowledged.

Indeed, certain stores feel that by introducing a fee, or a ‘tax’ for the plastic bags rather than an absolute ban, the choice is still available for emergencies, though generally speaking customers are encouraged and gently persuaded to reduce and hopefully eliminate their reliance on plastic bags. This fee method is useful in the sense that it may not be perceived as being too decisive and authoritarian an action, though it is problematic in the sense that some customers who do not consider the fee of any unfortunate consequence may continue to use the same amount of plastic bags as ever before.

This proposal suggests that small business owners should charge their customers a small charge for plastic bags, but that the money raised should be channeled directly into the research and production of biodegradable bags. Biodegradable bags are currently more expensive to produce than plastic bags, though with the money raised from a plastic bag “tax” it is likely that more research could be channeled into producing these bags at a cheaper cost. This proposal would work well because it takes a two-pronged approach towards responsible environmental action. Firstly, as has already been seen to work to some extent, the small plastic bag tax is likely to dissuade people from using plastic bags in the first place. It is unrealistic to expect that every customer shall cease all plastic bag usage overnight and so this strategy allows for gradual lifestyle changes, whilst at the same time raising money to invest in a longer-term plan of attempting to produce an efficient biodegradable bag, which could adequately meet the needs of a fast-paced, modern, though environmentally conscious society. If one small group of local businesses initiated this action and pooled the money into the research and production of biodegradable bags it is likely that collective action could achieve positive results. After all, some of the most successful business plans have had grassroots beginnings, and often it takes smaller individuals to implement grand-scale changes.

The first step is to begin advertising and telling customers about the desire to reduce the damaging effects of plastic bag pollution. Once the customer is on-board with the initiative, the business should implement a small plastic bag charge. By talking with other local businesses, it can be established whether the pooled funds should be channeled into the purchasing of, or further research into, biodegradable bags. Put simply, the primary aim of this proposed action is to drastically reduce plastic bag usage in order to prevent pollution and promote a sustainable environment. The secondary aim is to encourage the introduction and sustained usage of cost-effective biodegradable bags, seen as the use of the bag appears rightfully necessary in a retail environment. It seems perfectly possible to promote sustainable, responsible and healthy consumerist behavior and it seems as if the small-business is the perfect location at which to start.

Annotated Bibliography

Derraik, J. 2002. Plastic pollution in the south pacific subtropical gyre. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 68. Pp 71-6.

This journal article details the devastating effects of plastic pollution upon marine life.

HSBC. 2012. Your Business and the Environment. [Online] Available at: https://www.knowledge.hsbc.co.uk/green+business/your+business+and+the+environment [Accessed 29 November 2013].

This website article was useful to help formulate the argument as it describes the types of

environmental concerns which are relevant to small business owners.

NRDC, 2013. Issues: Recycling. [Online] Available at: http://www.nrdc.org/recycling/default.asp [Accessed 01 December 2013]

This website was utilized first in order to research the most pertinent environmental issues facing America today.

Root, J. 2011. 60,000 Bags are being used this second: Help slow it down. [Online] Available at: http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/plastic-bag-facts.htm [Accessed 01 December 2013]

This article provided a lot of statistical information concerning the true extent of plastic usage and damage, and was therefore useful to construct some eye-opening arguments.

Williams, C. 2004. Battle of the bag: the world has declared war on the plastic bag. What did this harmless item do to attract such opprobrium? (Harmful impact of plastic materials). New Scientist, 168. Pp. 30.

This article discusses the ‘hype’ surrounding plastic bag criticism, though concludes by admitting (as my proposal does) that plastic bags are extremely harmful and some intervention is certainly needed.

Smith, P. 2012. Telling plastic to 'bag it': Seattle is the latest U.S. city to ban plastic grocery bags out of concern for the environment. The New York Times Upfront, 114:11. Pp. 12.

This article provided some useful information on actions that have already been implemented against plastic bag usage.