Decline in plastic bag use is driven by money not climate crisis, study suggests

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·2-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The decline in plastic bag usage in recent years is fueled by a desire to save our pennies as opposed to the planet, a new study has suggested.

According to new research conducted by Nottingham University Business School’s N/LAB analytics centre, which looked at data on more than 10,000 consumers, shoppers who are shunning plastic bags on their supermarket shops are not at all influenced by the climate crisis.

All retailers in the UK are required to legally charge 10p per bag.

The study was conducted by looking at loyalty card transactions and examined the psychological and demographic predictors of single-use bag purchases.

It found that the most likely people to purchase plastic bags are younger shoppers who are often male and less frugal - however, their environmental concerns did not impact their decision at all.

The consumers also participated in a questionnaire that examined their shopping habits and their reasons behind them. It also asked about their environmental concerns.

The responses were then linked to their purchasing data, where it was then paired with a machine-learning algorithm to determine the factors that actually predict their plastic bag-buying behaviour.

The results indicated that shoppers who didn’t purchase plastic bags were more concerned with the 10p price than the planet.

Dr Gavin Smith, an associate professor in analytics, said: “We expected our findings would show infrequent bag-buyers are at least partly motivated by a desire to save money.

“But what we didn’t expect, not least given environmentalism’s role in underpinning the levy on plastic bags, was that environmental concerns wouldn’t predict consumption at all.

“This suggests future campaigns to further reduce plastic bag consumption might benefit from different messaging. It’s a matter of understanding whom to target, how and when.”

Study co-author Dr James Goulding, N/LAB’s associate director, added: “Until now very little was known about the people who still regularly buy plastic bags - or those who don’t.

“Previous research has tended to focus exclusively on consumers’ personalities or motivations not, crucially, on whether an individual’s beliefs actually translate into action in the real world.

“Our approach recognises that people today leave in their wake a substantial amount of data that can help do social good and shed significant light on how they really behave in practice.”

Additional reporting by PA

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting