Consumer Behavior and Retail Bag Usage

Thus far in 2014, many state lawmakers have had to consider several different types of legislation that regulate, tax, or ban single-use retail bags. Some proposals target plastic, others paper, and others go after both. Proponents of such plans will often claim that they’re designed to deter litter and to encourage the use of reusable bags.

In light of these developments, Edelman Berland recently conducted a study that sought to gauge consumer perceptions of different types of bags, to identify how often reusable bags are used, and to try and determine the future that plastic and paper bags will continue to play in checkout lines. The audience that was surveyed consisted of consumers who have either received or purchased reusable non-woven polypropylene (NWPP) bags—roughly 28 percent of a nationwide sample.

From these surveys, Edelman Berland determined that consumers strongly associate traits of durability, eco-friendliness, and reusability to reusable bags. Despite these traits, owners of reusable bags forget to bring their bags on roughly 40 percent of their trips to the grocery store.  When asked about their most recent trip to the grocery store, over 70 percent of reusable bag owners report using at least one plastic or paper bag instead of or in addition to their reusable bags.

Perhaps most alarming, however, were the reports of how rarely reusable bag owners clean their bags.  Roughly 28 percent of respondents report never washing their bags.  When these results are extrapolated to the 240 million adults currently living in the U.S., it’s quite possible that approximately 16.4 consumers in the U.S. are walking into grocery stores each week with reusable bags that have never been cleaned.

Obviously, this could be a significant issue because certain foods, such as raw produce and meats, may contain bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses unless certain precautions—such as regularly cleaning reusable bags—are taken. A study published in 2012 by the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University corroborates many of these concerns by finding that instances of E. coli infections spiked in San Francisco soon after their plastic bag ban was implemented.

The ALEC position on retail bag use is simple: allow consumers to make their own voluntary decisions based on what suit them best. Governments do not need to meddle even further in people’s lives by mandating the types of bags that should be used or by imposing taxes that artificially raise the price of using plastic or paper bags.

 

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