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Plastic Bag Fees

Plastic bag ordinances come in the form of a bag ban, a plastic bag fee, or both. Each type of regulation uses different methods to achieve the same goal: reduction of single use bags and their wasteful impacts.

Bag Fees

Bag fees work to reduce single use bags by creating a monetary incentive for consumers to invest in and use bags of their own.  They avoid complicated bag regulations and allow for a wide range of options for carry out bags. Despite the small price tag, a five to ten cent plastic bag fee is enough incentive for most people to start remembering reusable bags more often.

Contributing to their effectiveness, bag fees generally apply very broadly to all retail and food establishments within a city.  Because more industries fall under a fee, larger across the board gains are made in litter and waste reduction.

Cities around the world have been implementing bag fees with resounding success.  Ireland instituted the first PlasTax in 2002 and reduced single use bags by 90% in the first year.  London instituted a five pence fee (about 15 cents US) at the beginning of 2015 and saw an 85% drop.  Other cities from India to Rwanda to Washington DC show similar reductions of bag use and bag litter as well.

Research suggests that simple bag fees are particularly effective in reducing bag use.  In Australia, where reusable bags are voluntary, one study found that in stores with no bag fee, shoppers chose single use bags 67% of the time, while 16% of people chose reusable bags. Only 17% took no bag at all. In contrast, grocery stores with a fee found that consumers chose single use bags and reusable bags equally at 31% of the time, while 39% of shoppers took no bag at all.

One study in Argentina suggested that bag fees work in several ways to affect consumer behavior.  Even with the economic incentive is small, as low as 2.5 cents, the results are the same as with a larger fee.  After interviews with consumers, the researchers found that when there was no fee, the bags were simply given away and consumers didn’t think about it.  But for customers facing a fee for a bag, the choice was made conscious. Most consumers said the fee itself was not the primary factor in their decision, but, when faced with a fee, the choice to take a bag or not take one became conscious. Most consumers cited their own pre-existing belief in the environmental benefits of reducing bag use as the most important factor for making their decision.  That small moment and the tiny fee were enough to get 70% of consumers to reuse bags within the first 4 months.  Interestingly, people opposed to the policy refused single use bags at the same rate as those who did.

Consumers buying a bag make the same kinds of decisions regarding this product as they do for other products.  So it’s important that retail buyers manage their bag offerings as carefully as they would any other product category. Become a smarter bag buyer with our Buyer’s Guide to Reusable Bags. We have done extensive research about What Consumers Want in a Bag. Or simply Contact Us, and we’ll help you get a bag your customers will love at a price you can afford.