Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental and Natural Resources Economics
Environmental & Natural Resource Economics
Over the last five decades, plastics have penetrated our lives slowly yet with such certainty that we cannot imagine a day without plastic products. From bottled water to injection syringes, we are submerged in plastics. Plastics have significantly improved human lifestyles and reduced living costs by providing cheap household items. However, it is also evident now that plastics threaten the natural environment and animal and human health. Specifically, single-use plastics are the most ubiquitous nuisance to the environment. Food packaging, pet bottles, and single-use plastic bags are the most found plastic items in household garbage. According to statistics from the UN Environment Program (2018), consumers worldwide use an estimated 5 trillion plastic shopping bags yearly, and the number is increasing.
To reduce plastic bag consumption, governments and municipalities worldwide have enacted regulatory policies such as bans on plastic bag manufacture, import, and distribution at various levels and levies (such as tax or fee on plastic bags at the point of sale) on consumers for plastic bag use. However, in many instances, these policies have shown limited effectiveness, suggesting a need for complementary approaches to address this issue.
This dissertation research develops pilot field experiments to test the effectiveness of behavioral nudges as a potential complementary solution to confront plastic bag use reduction.
Behavioral nudges are “any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people's behavior predictably without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives” (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008). They have become a tool for policymakers to change people’s behavior without coercing them to choose an option. In this dissertation, I designed two behavioral nudges to reduce plastic bag consumption among retail consumers.
The pilot experiment presented in Chapter 1 aims to test the efficacy of “active and enhanced active choice,” which changes the choice architecture from the vendors providing a plastic bag as a default to asking consumers whether to take a plastic bag. Through a pilot field experiment in Bangladesh, we found that customers under active and enhanced active choice conditions used fewer plastic bags than the control condition. However, the results must be interpreted cautiously due to the small sample size and short study duration.
Chapter 2 presents the results of a pilot field experiment on "reminder messaging" to retail consumers to use reusable bags for grocery shopping. This is a form of behavioral nudge that, to our knowledge, has not been previously tested as a means to reduce plastic bag usage. Through a pilot field experiment in Bangladesh, we found that a simple reminder resulted in a 28% reduction in plastic bag usage, while combining this reminder with an endowment of reusable bags led to a 36% decrease. These results suggest that reminder messaging can effectively supplement regulatory approaches.
Chapter 3 delves into the consumer perceptions and preferences for plastic bag reduction in the context of Bangladesh, an early adopter of policies prohibiting single-use plastic bags but failing to reduce plastic bag use. We conduct a survey to gauge public opinion on the existing plastic bag regulations and a hypothetical levy-based policy and examine the factors influencing their support. Our study reveals strong public approval for the ban on plastic bags, yet many consumers remain unsupportive of a levy-based system. We find that the socioeconomic attributes of the customers are not statistically significant factors; instead, the shopping frequency and support for the current bag ban policy are the critical factors behind the support for the levy-based policy. Depending on bag size, the mean WTP for plastic bags ranges from 0.45 to 1.50 Bangladeshi Taka (0.005 to 0.017 USD). All three studies' findings will help policymakers design effective educational and behavioral nudge-based programs to reduce plastic bag consumption in the retail market.
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Hasan, Md Tahsin, "TESTING THE EFFICACY OF BEHAVIORAL NUDGES FOR REDUCING PLASTIC BAG USE AND PERCEPTION OF LEVY-BASED POLICY AMONG RETAIL CUSTOMERS IN BANGLADESH" (2023). Open Access Dissertations. Paper 1551.
Available for download on Tuesday, March 05, 2024