Thursday, March 26, 2015

So, your reusable grocery bags will kill you in the long run?

If you live in the USA, then there is one more hazard that you need to worry about if you are one of the conscientious who takes reusable bags to the grocery stores.

First, why one more hazard?  Because, I already blogged about this one, and that was more than two years ago!

Second, why in the US and not elsewhere?  Because, ahem, we are all being very fashionable about it, as if we care more for the environment than others, when the reality is that in most countries, people almost always take their own bags.  Now, thanks to us, others are also picking up this bad plastic bag habit.

Come on, you know where this is from!

So, after those clarifications, may I bring to your attention that latest hazard if you take reusable bags to grocery stores?
It was clear that shoppers who brought their own bags were more likely to replace nonorganic versions of goods like milk with organic versions. So one green action led to another. But those same people were also more likely to buy foods like ice cream, chips, candy bars, and cookies. They weren’t replacing other items with junk food, as they did with organic food. They were just adding it to their carts.
Yep, that's right. You take those bags and you end up buying more junk food.  How about that!
In consumer psychology the word “licensing” is the key. If I behave well in one situation, I give myself license to misbehave in another, unrelated situation. Similar research has also been done on health decisions. I get a Diet Coke; I treat myself to a hamburger. In this case bringing a bag makes you think you’re environmentally friendly, so you get some ice cream. You feel you’ve earned it.
Apparently we have decided that we either litter the world with plastic bags, or litter our digestive systems with junk food.  We litter, therefore we are!
I suspect that as bringing reusable bags becomes a widespread practice, it’s likely these effects will change. Look at bottle recycling. It used to be that you felt as if you were doing a good thing by recycling bottles. Now it’s to the point where you don’t get a cookie for recycling them; you just get penalized if you don’t. You get nasty stares.
Oh, ok, we just need to ride out the temporary issues then.  There is hope?  Not so fast, because:
The dollar value of the indulgence relative to the entire basket’s value tends to be low. But the nature of the food—high calorie, high fat—may be the more important factor, not how much it costs. The effect does dissipate as indulgences get more expensive. Then there’s a whole other, nonfood aspect to it. Is lavender-scented laundry soap an indulgence? Maybe. We limited our focus to food.
In this research, they looked only at food items purchased.  So, who knows how much we truly indulge ourselves just because we feel awesome at having been environmentally responsible enough to take reusable bags!

We humans are one interesting bunch of animals, yes.  An orangutan wouldn't be this fascinating.  Wait, are we being manipulated by Dr. Zaius?


Ramesh said...

Really ??? If you take your own bags, you buy more junk food ? What sort of research people do :)

But I owe you a big thanks on this reusable bag issue. On the same grounds of caring for the environment, I take a jute bag to the shop. Never used to give a moment's thought to it until I read your old post. Now I wash it, almost as a fetish ! So you are responsible for a far more healthy habit - big thanks !

Anne in Salem said...

How much of my tax money paid for this ridiculous research?

Sriram Khé said...

As the researcher notes, we give ourselves such "breaks" all the time ... The Diet Coke has been my favorite joke for years. People but hybrid cars but then feel they ought to treat themselves for being good, but the treat could be unhealthy in so many ways.

The researcher is a business school person. At the best of them all: Harvard. I was quoting from the Harvard Business Review's interview with the researcher, who is an Asst. Prof. there. BTW, the researcher is a double PhD. Yep. Two of 'em. The first one is a phd in neuroscience, and the second a phd in business.

You might think that such research is ridiculous. But, such a bottom-line reaction might be way, way off base. Analyzing human/consumer behavior is an integral part of the business/marketing world and, of course, of the information world as well. The psychological and neuroscience approach is rapidly being adopted in those two worlds, which pretty much even now significantly affects what we do on a daily basis, and will define our lives even more into the future. I am not happy that humans are being reduced to a single $$$ dimension. But, that ship set sail a long, long time ago!

Ramesh, you will be happy to know that today's laundry included my two grocery bags ;)

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