Nudging Away from Plastic Bags with Charitable Donations

Jerrod Penn, Sapana Bastola and Wuyang Hu


To respond to the environmental problems posed by disposable plastic bags, several mechanisms exist, such as bag taxes and bans, but such policies are infeasible in several U.S. states and municipalities. This study uses a social quasi-experiment to examine the effect of a voluntary token-donation program, which reduces disposable plastic bag use by providing a small charitable donation incentive. We find that the token-donation program reduces the probability of disposable bag use by 11.4–12.9 percentage points, representing about 30%–34% decrease in bag use. Our results demonstrate effective mechanisms to reduce plastic bags exist without government-mandated policy.