Considering the amount of publicity given to the environmental damage caused by plastic, it is difficult to understand the backlash to the single-use plastic bag ban instituted by Coles and Woolworths at the beginning of July.
One possible explanation is that we have been so successfully trained by supermarkets to use plastic bags it has become an ingrained dependence.
To suddenly remove our plastic bags can cause anger, resentment, and resistance to change as it is a disruption that requires us to make conscious decisions about what previously was unconscious behaviour.
Supermarkets can ban single-use plastic bags, but this does not mean that by doing so they will change consumer behaviour, especially those they themselves have encouraged.
It is possible that if Coles and Woolworths had used more nudging before banning single-use plastic, the backlash would have been reduced.Nick King
If there is to be a significant shift in consumer use of plastic, learned plastic use must be unlearned.
The customer must accept that he or she will be inconvenienced and there is a reason for this inconvenience. There must also be a pay-off for the customer for undergoing such an inconvenience.
A useful strategy for helping people unlearn behaviour is one called nudging. This technique involves giving the individual a positive encouraging message to change behaviour which complements more coercive practices.
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The nudge can be economic, such as the Container Deposit Scheme, or the positive messages delivered by the Plastic Free July campaign.
The idea of nudges is that they provide information and motivation to make the individual stop and think about their behaviour.
It is possible that if Coles and Woolworths had used more nudging before banning single-use plastic, the backlash would have been reduced.
If supermarkets are sincere in supporting their customers in reducing their dependency on plastic, they need to provide frequent in-house nudges about the harm plastic does to the environment.