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  • 21st Apr 2023

Bring your own bag

Using behavioral insights to promote reusable bag use in US cities

You’re in line to checkout, but have just realized that you forgot to bring a reusable bag. A quiet wave of guilt washes over you as you grab a plastic one.

Many of us have been there. An estimated 100 billion plastic bags are used every year in the U.S., and fewer than 10% are recycled, contributing to a global plastic waste challenge.

How might behavioral science—the study of behavior and how our actions are shaped by our contexts—help in addressing this systemic issue? We’re embarking on one of our largest field trials to date to understand how.

Bring Your Own Bag Pilot

BIT is proud to announce our collaboration with Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy to launch the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag’s Bring Your Own Bag Pilot. This multi-city pilot will test interventions to encourage people to bring reusable bags whenever they shop, with the ultimate goal of creating a broader culture shift toward reuse.

The pilot will take place across Denver, CO and Tucson, AZ, and is open to retailers of all sizes—from mom-and-pop shops to national brands. To date, more than 150 stores have signed up across CVS Health, Target, DICK’S Sporting Goods, Dollar General, The Kroger Co., TJX, and Ulta Beauty. From May 1 to July 30, residents will experience interventions in stores and around their city, including:

  • Signs encouraging customers to bring their own bag
  • Prompts from employees asking customers at checkout, “Do you need a bag?”
  • Out of store communications including signs in the community and through social media

Our team is planning to conduct 600 hours of observation (including bag counting) and to interview 1,800 shoppers to understand their attitudes and behaviors around shopping bags. The data we’ll collect will also show if the interventions are impacting plastic bag use.

Reinventing the Retail Bag

Single-use plastic bags are convenient, but their growing negative impact on the environment has led to rising consumer concern and advocacy campaigns. A few states have introduced bag bans or fees as well, with some successes. But policies like these aren’t an option everywhere.

The retail bag needs reinventing—and the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag aims to do it. Messaging grounded in behavioral science might be able to help. We’ve seen its potential first-hand in our work with Unilever, which explored how behaviorally-informed messaging delivered by social media influencers can encourage sustainable behaviors.

More on Behavioral Insights and Sustainability

We are pleased to have kicked off the first phase of our work with Closed Loop Partners and retailers in Denver and Tucson this April to capture baseline data. We look forward to capturing additional insights over the course of the pilot from now through July.

In the meantime, for more on BIT’s insights on applying behavioral science to help people make sustainable choices and achieve climate change goals, read our How to Build Net Zero Society report here.

Happy Earth Day!