An expert in the reusable bag industry warns consumers about the results from one eye-opening study that shows people who use reusable shopping bags buy more junk food.
People who carry reusable bags to the grocery store oftentimes feel as if they’re doing the planet good, but researchers say that those virtuous feelings may lead to questionable purchases in the grocery ailes.
“The study was truly eye-opening,” says an industry expert who is a seller of reusable grocery bags. “Most people believe that those who carry their own reusable bags to the store are health conscience and concerned about the environment, but this study places that theory into doubt.”
The study, which was conducted by Uma R. Karmarkar of Harvard University and Bryan Bollinger of Duke University show that when people shop using their own bags, they are more likely to purchase organic foods, but at the same time, they also purchase more junk food alongside the more healthy food choices. “Bringing one’s own bags increases purchases of not only environmentally friendly organic foods but also indulgent foods,” Karmarkar and Bollinger said in the study paper. “Because bringing reusable bags feels virtuous, consumers could feel licensed to make other less virtuous or more indulgent decisions afterward,” they wrote.
Because of the plastic bag bans that have come into law across the nation, more and more consumers are carrying their own reusable bags on grocery shopping day. “I hope the efforts to preserve the environment doesn’t lead to people making more unhealthy food choices,” said the expert. “I believe that if people understood the risk for the tendency, they would compensate for it and end up making better food choices.”
The study highlighted a human psychology phenonmenon that’s known as licensing. Karmarkar summed it up like this, “”If I behave well in one situation, I give myself license to misbehave in another, unrelated situation,” she said. “Similar research has also been done on health decisions. I get a Diet Coke; I treat myself to a hamburger.”
But Karmarkar said that in the case of reusable bags triggering a junk-food purchase, shoppers may not be conscious of the behavior. “Bringing bags to the store isn’t related to pulling products off the shelf, and yet it has an impact,” she noted.
“If consumers are aware of the behavior, it might help them the next time they go to the grocery store with their reusable shopping bags. This is especially important information for those who are trying to cut down on junk food and make healthier food choices. After all, people should be just as concerned about their own bodies as they are about the environment.”