In many areas, grocery stores and other big box chain stores recently began charging a nickel for plastic bags. From a rational point of view, this should not have made a big difference. However, once the initial grumbling died down, there was a huge change in customer behaviour.
In our household, this nickel charge would have added a little less than a dollar a week to our grocery bill. But, the drive to save these nickels is compelling to us and seemingly to most other people as well. We bring our own bags, and when we’re forced to pay for a bag or two, we put more items in each bag.
The net result has been a huge decrease in the number of plastic bags given out by stores. And this change happened almost overnight because of a tiny charge for bags.
Economic incentives like this one are often a much better way of driving behaviour than setting rules. Governments serious about driving citizens to greener choices would do well to design effective economic incentives rather than imposing rules.