Monday, April 28, 2008

Some Change for Change: Charging for Plastic/Paper Bags

I did a podcast on the harmful effects of plastic/paper bags and how a retailer should get people to switch to canvas bags. It is interesting that the plastic and paper bags are technological improvements over reusable bags. We can go to the store and not have to worry about bringing a reusable bag. Plastic and paper bags provide convenience, but of course at a big price. The question is how do we get people to change their behavior and use the less convenient reusable bags?

I propose the answer is some change. Retail stores should charge people a small fee (~ $0.10) for every plastic and paper bag used at checkout. I think this would provide enough motivation for people to make the switch. To prove this, I surveyed people outside of Barton Creek Square Mall (As a side note, surveying people is very hard. I thought that most people would be willing to take a 30 SEC SURVEY, but most people just gave me a glare like I ran over their family dog)
I would have wanted to conduct the survey ideally outside a grocery store, but both HEB and Randalls refused my request. The mall security guard told me to leave after about an hour when he found out I didn't ask for permission from the mall.

In the survey, I found that 88 % of the people who currently use plastic bags would switch to canvas if charged $0.10. 8 % would continue buying the plastic/paper and 4 % would shop at another store. With numbers like this, I don't see why a store would not charge for plastic/paper bags. It would help the environment and be of economic benefit to the store. As a side note, Ireland charges about $0.25 for plastic and paper bag used at checkout. They cited that this charge has reduced usage by 90 %.

Austin has recently been looking into ways to reduce plastic bag consumption. The city council has decreed that plastic bag consumption will be cut by 50 % by July 2009 or they will take other steps to reduce consumption. They are requiring that six voluntary retailers, who include the big stores HEB and Randells, provide detailed reports of their bag consumption for the next year. I went to the press conference to announce Austin's Bag the Bag campaign and interviewed some of the retailers for my podcast. They basically feel that for now an educational and recycle, not a charge campaign is best to reduce plastic bag consumption.

If we want people to stop using plastic/paper bags, let's MAKE THEM STOP, not pretend to care about the problem by educating people. When I was in first grade I was told how many thousands of dolphins a year are killed by plastic, yet up until about 2 weeks ago I still used plastic bags! I personally think that only until charged will a majority of people be motivated enough to stop using plastic/paper bags. If you want a lot more info I invite you to watch my podcast.

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