Thursday, April 12, 2012

For a Nickel and the Common Good

Lately I’ve noticed more people in HoCo using their reusable bags for grocery shopping. When I first became a full fledged convert to bringing my own bags to the grocery store almost three years ago, it was still a novelty to see other shoppers doing the same.

Not so much anymore.

In HoCo at least, more and more people are moving away from the bane of environmentalists, the plastic bag. What is surprising to me about this is that it is happening without a loco bag tax to force it. Last year, MoCo was the first county in Maryland to impose a tax for using plastic shopping bags. A year later, despite predictions of an impending statewide bag tax, MoCo remains the only county in the state to have one.

Could it be that people are switching just because it is the right thing to do?

I’d like to think so. I can see how a bag tax might cause people to migrate away from plastic bags but when there isn’t behavioral penalty involved how else do you explain this shift?

On the other hand, there actually is a financial incentive for using your bags, at least at Giant stores. Giant offers shoppers a nickel rebate for each reusable bag they fill at the stores but you have to remember to ask for it or do it yourself at the self check-out. Other stores are offering similar incentives.

“I always forget to do that,” Mama Wordbones confided to me the other day when we were talking about this. So, for her the financial incentive is not that much of an incentive. Even if Giant didn’t offer the nickel rebate, she’d still use her own bags, now that she's gotten into the habit.

And besides, it really is the right thing to do.
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