How to reduce the use of plastic (produce) bags? Help brainstorm!

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Lately I have been thinking a lot about how we could reduce the use of plastic bags in our societies. I am especially eager to help reduce the amount of bags used for produce such as fruits and vegetables. If you bring your own, these plastic produce bags are completely unnecessary. The question is, however, how to convince consumers to bring your own bag or to simply carry the product(s) in your hands.

As I have written about before, I myself am very happy with the reusable produce bags I purchased when I started my PlasticMinimalism project. I bring them along wherever I go. I use them very often and everyone seems to love them. Everyone agrees that it makes totally sense to use such reusable bags. I have never heard any negative comments about them. Yet almost no-one uses them.

Re-Sacks

Why do we see reusable produce bags so seldom?
That is a mystery for me. I do not understand why this is the case. I find it very easy to bring along my reusable bags. I always have one or two bags in the tote and backpack that I use on a daily basis. As such, I seldom find myself bag-less when hunting for snacks, fruits, or nuts.

So given the environmental, practical benefits and the ease of adopting this new habit, why is it that I seldom see people using these reusable produce bags?

Is it because of their scarce availability? I have never seen them on sale here in China. Or is it that people only change behavior if forced so by law or a substantial charge for each bag? Perhaps people are not aware of the adverse economic, environmental, and health impacts of plastic bags. Or they mistakenly think that recycling plastic bags justifies using plastic bags. Perhaps not everyone is aware of plasticfree alternatives. Sometimes you are so used to doing things in one way that you are blind for alternatives.

How can we stimulate the use of reusable bags?
What can we do to make reusable produce bags more common? As there probably is not one single reason that explains why reusable produce bags are uncommon, stimulating their use probably requires a combination of different strategies. As our resources are limited, the question is which strategy would be most efficient. How can we best help change behavior?

A bunch of behavioral scientists is looking at how different kind of messages influence what people do. In one of their studies they used four different kind of messages in a nature park. In this particular park, visitors would sometimes steal petrified wood. The conclusion of the study was that the least theft occurred in the presence of the sign presenting desired behavior in negative terms (i.e., injunctive-proscriptive), โ€œPlease donโ€™t remove the petrified wood in the park,โ€ paired with an illustration of the desired behavior, in this case a photo of a person admiring petrified wood on the ground.

We will try a similar strategy in our campaigns against plastic produce bags. We could design and distribute images of reusable produce bags with texts like “Please don’t use single-use/disposable produce bags”. Unfortunately we weren’t aware of the science when our graphic designer Gerda drew new awesome campaign material. Nevertheless, the images are fantastic so we will still use them for the time being. Here is one of them. In the future we can experiment with science-based campaign material.

Plastic-Free Tuesday_Suffocating bananasWhat other strategies would you recommend us to adopt? Should we hand-out bags for free in supermarkets? Should we write to politicians to urge them to enact bans on plastic bags? Should we approach retailers? What would work best? We would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or engage in this discussion on our social media. You find us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. What would work best according to you?

PS: Today is the last day you can enter the drawing for the giveaway and win a set of reusable produce bags!

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About Author

Annemieke

In 2013, after reading yet another article about plastic soup, Annemieke started her Dutch blog Plasticminimalism where she documented her small steps towards a plastic-free life. To create more awareness about the adverse impacts of our plastic consumption, she launched Plastic-Free Tuesday in spring 2014. She strongly believes that building a better world starts by changing our own behavior. Annemieke is an environmental scientist and sinologist. She alternates living in the Netherlands, Sweden, the US, and China while working towards her PhD dissertation about public health incidents and law in China.

8 Comments

  1. Plastic shopping bag bans are great but most of us stuff our reusable shopping bags with plastic produce bags :/ I sew very simple bags shaped like small pillow cases and keep these tucked in with my shopping bags. Using the bags is so simple and cuts down on a lot of plastic. When I take my glass jars to the bulk bins, almost every time, someone asks me about it. Many say they will try it. But the produce bags rarely elicit comments. The concept is completely foreign to most people. It will take time to educate shoppers. Your awesome poster will help. Gerda is very talented!

    Here are my directions on the bags: http://zerowastechef.com/2014/05/01/homemade-cloth-produce-and-bulk-bags-plus-a-giveaway/

    I give them away from time to time. That will be my next post ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Annemieke

      Thank you so much for your kind comment and your input. The instructions for the DIY bags are very helpful. We have been thinking about making some of these bags to then give away for free at local markets. In fact, Gerda has done so in Melbourne. However, here in Beijing we lack a sewing machine, so we need to first find a kind person who would be willing to lend us a machine. Have you tried giving them away in shops? What do people say? Do you think people would (re)use them if you would give some bags?

      • You’re welcome. I have given a lot away, but not in shops. I live in an intentional community and we have a community kitchen and gardens here. I’ve given bags to the women in charge of both and they use them (as far as I know). I mailed 50 to my hero yesterday, Ron Finley (@RonFinleyHQ) to use in his community gardens in Los Angeles.

        I think if you give them away in stores, people will use them. That would be a brilliant campaign! When people stop to think about the cloth produce bags, a lightbulb seems to go off. You have me thinking about trying this myself ๐Ÿ™‚

        Please let me know how this goes. I hope you find a sewing machine!

        • Annemieke

          Thank you! And I am really impressed by your effort to increase the use of reusable bags! We are together in this!

          We have been thinking about cooperating with small nut/fruit shops. We would provide the bags (preferably made from discarded fabric) for free and they would give these away to their customers. Perhaps we would have a small postcard or so accompanying the bag to explain what’s wrong with plastic disposable bags. Still the obstacle right now is where to find a machine and discarded fabric. We will discuss this again in our team. Will write a post on it once we find a solution.

  2. I’ve never seen reusable produce bags for sale in any store. I wanted a bunch when I became plastic-free so I had to order them from amazon (the cheapest way). I figured it was worth one shipment to have bags that would last forever. Stores need to have them available to purchase the same way they have reusable grocery bags!

    • Annemieke

      In the Netherlands I have only seen reusable produce bags in some green/sustainable/fair-trade stores. Here in China I have never seen them. Our next offline mission is to find some light-weight (preferably second-hand) fabric to make some bags to hand out for free.

  3. Isn’t about time all shop/supermarkets stopped selling/ giving plastic bags out. In England we’ve been charging for carrier bags for a while now, and that has reduced the number used greatly BUT if bags weren’t sold/ given away people would soon get over it and bring their own. Think the government worldwide needs to get a back bone and ban them.

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