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.
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), “Please don’t remove the petrified wood in the park,” 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.
What 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!