A big data study of over 10,000 consumers found that shoppers prefer single-use plastic bags to save money than the environment.
Research by Nottingham University’s N/LAB analytics centre for excellence suggests that the UK’s dramatic decline in plastic bag usage may not be due to shoppers worrying about the environment.
The study used over 1m loyalty cards transactions to examine the psychological and demographic predictors for single-use bag purchases.
Bags are more likely to be purchased by younger shoppers, who are more likely to be male and less frugal, but whose environmental concerns don’t affect their decision to buy bags.
The findings came as plastic bag use rises to an annual peak during the festive season, despite all England’s retailers being legally required by law to charge 10p per bag.
Dr James Goulding (N/LABs associate Director) said that the study’s co-author stated that until now, very little was known about those who continue to buy plastic bags and those who don’t.
Research has been limited to examining consumers’ motivations and personalities. It is crucial that research not only examines whether or not a person’s beliefs translate into actions in the real world.
Our approach recognizes the fact that people leave behind a significant amount of data that can aid in social good and shed light into their real behavior.
More than 10,000 consumers completed a questionnaire to learn about their lives, traits, and environmental opinions.
The results of their surveys were linked to their purchases data. A machine learning algorithm was then used in order to determine the factors which actually predicted bag-buying behavior.
The survey asked questions about environmental considerations and climate change, but these were not considered to have an influence on purchasing decisions.
Dr Gavin Smith is an associate professor in analytics. He said: We expected that our findings would show that infrequent bag buyers are at least partially motivated to save money.
However, what we didn’t anticipate, especially given the role of environmentalisms in underpinning levy on bags, was that environmental concerns wouldn’t predict consumption at all.
This suggests that future campaigns to reduce plastic bags consumption could benefit from different messaging. It’s all about understanding who to target and how to do it.
In light of growing concerns about the impact plastic bags have on litter and pollution, Wales introduced the UK’s first levy in 2011. Northern Ireland followed in 2013 and Scotland in 2014.
2015 was the year that England’s seven largest supermarkets gave away more 7.6bn single-use bags. In May 2015, England introduced its own 5p tax. It doubled to minimum 10p in May, and was extended across all retailers.