Encouraging the Switch to Reusable Shopping Bags in ArmeniaOct 25, 2019
Reusable bags are a great way to reduce plastic in the environment. To encourage their uptake in rural Armenia, People in Need conducted research to better understand the motivations, and barriers, to sustainability.
What motivates people to ditch plastic shopping bags if favour of more sustainable options? People in Need (PIN) sought to answer that question recently in Syunik, Armenia, with a study of shoppers’ bag-using habits. The initiative, “Reduce, Reuse! Become a Friend of Nature,” was funded by the British Embassy in Yerevan, and collected insights from 384 customers, shopkeepers, NGO staff and local authorities.
The research found that 93% of customers use lightweight plastic bags exclusively, and only 7% regularly bring their own reusable bags with them when they shop. The principal reason for low rates of reusable bag use is convenience. Customers know they will receive a free plastic bag with every purchase, and shopkeepers, unwilling to upset the expected norms of customer service, do not limit the distribution of plastic bags.
Additionally, some customers said they reuse free plastic bags for household chores – like collecting garbage, carrying goods and packing food. Furthermore, the survey found that reusable shopping bags are perceived as unattractive, hard to carry, unhygienic and difficult to purchase. Finally, reusable bags are perceived to be stronger that plastic but only marginally more eco-friendly.
The report offers recommendations for people in Armenia, and elsewhere, to reduce the use of lightweight plastic bags by changing consumer behaviour. First, it is key to focus initiatives on the most common users of reusable bags – statistically, young women – and understand their buying habits. Conversion of these users would then reap broader societal rewards. For instance, according to the “diffusion of innovations” theory, popularized by the American sociologist Everett Rogers, “early adopters“ of a technology – in this case, reusable bags – can set a new trend to be followed by the “early majority“ of a given population. In other words, focusing on the preferences of young female shoppers would likely have a bigger impact than targeting the entire Armenian population.
Second, interventions should not seek to eliminate plastic bag use completely. A more effective approach would be branding reusable bags as attractive, affordable, hygienic and easy to fold and carry. Programs should also be designed to engage cashiers in the promotion of reusable bag use, and to improve access to reusable bags in local shops.
Additional work is needed to convert PIN’s research in Syunik into effective policy. But at the very least, the findings suggest it is possible to help rural communities transition to more environmentally-sustainable behaviours.