Nudging in Supermarkets to Reduce Plastic Bag Consumption among Customers: A Framework for Change

  •  Ian Lim    


Despite good intentions, the increasing number of plastic bag bans aimed at alleviating marine plastic pollution saw a correlated increase in the number of unintended consequences that emerged alongside the bans, suggesting that human behavior towards plastic bag consumption have not changed, but merely shifted, and are feeding into other major international environmental catastrophes. Nudge theory, which helps people make better choices for themselves without inhibiting their free will, is a potential solution that has been shown to play a subtle but important role in providing options under circumstances where complex information needs to be streamlined for the wider community, avoiding any unintended consequences and behavioural shifts that might arise from instruments that diminishes autonomy. It is therefore timely to look into the insights of nudge theory to encourage a positive behavioural change to reduce plastic bag consumption. Here we apply a systematic literature review to show how successful applications of nudges in supermarkets can be leveraged to reduce plastic bag consumption. We find that the current applications of nudges in various industries worldwide, including supermarkets have produced positive and encouraging results, as well as producing lasting behavioural change among the wider community. Supermarkets are identified as a powerful deployment site of these nudges due to their positioning as a dominant provider of plastic bags to the wider community, as well as being the largest and leading provider of daily food needs. Finally, we synthesise our findings to produce a coherent and testable framework of actionable interventions that supermarkets can employ to nudge customers towards reduced plastic bag reliance, accompanied with a visual timeline of a customer shopping in a supermarket experiencing these nudges.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.