Where touchpoints intersect planned behaviour: how the ‘Bags Not’ campaign plans to have people saying no to plastic

Bcg2 and sustainability specialists Go Well Consulting have teamed up to launch ‘Bags Not’, a campaign aimed to minimise and eventually eliminate single-use use plastic bags, non-recyclable plastics and other plastic waste from the New Zealand environment.

Featuring a dedicated website and endorsements from Riley Elliott a.k.a the Shark Man, actor Pua Magasiva, artist Dick Frizzell, and writer and TV presenter Jaquie Brown in a series of videos, the campaign encourages Kiwis to say ‘Bags Not’ to single-use plastic bags and use alternatives such as long-life bag, a box, a basket, a handbag, or a backpack.

The campaign has already received support from New World and Ecostore. The former has committed to eliminating single-use plastic bags in its stores by the end of 2018 while the latter has invested in the use of sugarcane as an alternative to petroleum plastic and its deployment of bioplastic technology.

Subsequently, 92 percent of each bottle is made from renewable resources and 100 percent of its packaging is recycled. It also plays a part in reducing the carbon footprint, by capturing and storing CO2 in the packaging process.

The two companies are joined by Countdown and Mitre 10, both of which are committed to removing single-use plastic bags from their networks. By the end of this year, Countdown will have stopped using single-use plastic bags in store and in its online shopping orders, while the middle of the year will see Mitre 10 stop handing out plastic bags and plastic boot liners.

Steve Bayliss, general manager of group marketing at Foodstuffs NZ Ltd, says with a commitment to getting rid of single-use plastic bags, it’s providing the market with long-life reusable bags, expanding soft plastics recycling, and looking for alternatives for its customers.

However, that’s the easy part. The challenge lies in helping to change the habit of a lifetime.

Bayliss says it’s important to work with New Zealanders to motivate behaviour change. A key part of this is encouraging Kiwis to revisit their use of plastic bags.

“’Bags Not’ is challenging retailers to take up the call and look at the alternatives they can offer the customer.”

Chairman of Bcg2 James Blackwood adds that we know plastic bags wreak havoc on the environment, but getting people to change the way they shop overnight is a lot to ask. Because of this, it believes that education and easy access to alternatives are the keys to creating a cultural shift.

“Working collaboratively with businesses at the coalface of this issue is the most lasting way to bring that change to bear. Retailers like New World are proactively addressing the issue, and we want the public to get behind their initiatives. We think that together we can make a difference, faster, and we are keen for other New Zealand businesses and organisations to join our movement.”  

Helping to ensure the campaign is picked up and the encouraged behaviour change lasts into the future, insight agency TRA has partnered with Bcg2 in creating the campaign.

TRA partner Karin Glucina says behaviour changes are difficult because you are dealing with ingrained habits which are hard to break. In saying that, she explains there are ways to do that, one being to make it easy for people by giving them plenty of cues at all the points where the behaviour change needs to occur.

“People often think about stuff, but then they don’t do it. If you can make it really easy at the point of where they are actually needing to change their behaviour rather than two days before when they were thinking about it or later when they think about it, the easier it gets.”

In this case, the ‘Bags Not’ campaign encourages people to keep their keys and wallet with reusable plastic bags so people remember to take them out shopping. It also has partnered with Foodstuffs to have reminders in the supermarkets themselves.

“It’s where the touchpoints intersect with the planned behaviour change that’s important,” Glucina explains.

Another strength of the campaign is the way it is preparing people for the day when single-use plastic bags are phased out—an action already seen in place by Countdown, New World and Mitre 10—so people will feel good about the change.

“What is good about this campaign is it is getting people ready for it so they are already starting put their own solutions in place so what plastic bags are phased out it’s not hard for them.”

Glucina compares ‘Bags Not’ to the efforts made to stop people smoking. While smoking isn’t illegal, it has been banned in public places and in the lead up to that came information about the dangers of smoking. Because the behaviour change wasn’t forced onto people without first making them opposed to it, the smoking ban in public places was well received.

The smoking example also demonstrates the power of social norms when it comes to changing behaviour. Glucina explains people often need reminding of the what the norms are as a way to nudge along behaviour changes.

“Smoking is now not something that’s particularly done in many places so you would feel weird lighting up a cigarette, whereas 10 years ago it wouldn’t have been weird.”

While the ‘Bags Not’ campaign encourages people to make the decision to swap out plastic for something more sustainable, other counties have added an incentive to a change in behaviour by charging for plastic bags.

In 2015, England became the last UK country to see its retailers charge customers for plastic bags when a 5p charge was added in retailers with more than 250 workers. Since then, the number of single-use plastic bags has fallen 83 percent.

Bloomberg reports the average shopper in England now takes home about 25 bags a year from the main supermarkets, compared with about 140 bags before the charge.

Prior to New World announcing its commitment to being free of single-use plastic bags by the end of 2018, it gave people the choice to a 5 cent or 10 cent charge for bags in its BagVote campaign. There was also an option for no charge while there was no option for phasing out bags.

The move to phase out single-use plastic bags came from feedback from customers, with many reaching out via email, Facebook, phone and in-store that they wanted the option.

Glucina says this is a demonstration of people wanting the behaviour change to be easier for them. If there is no choice of options, there is no option but to change their behaviour.

Meanwhile, in Kenya, selling, using or producing plastic bags could see you imprisoned. Last year, it joined more than 40 counties that have already banned plastic bags, including China, France and Italy, with the penalty being up to four years imprisonment or a £31,000 fine.

According to The Guardian, it took the country three attempts over 10 years to pass the ban. 

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