Analyzing the effect of biodegradable packaging on plastic consumption in the wholesale market: a field experiment in the Costa Rican farmer’s market

Command and control instruments, such as Plastic-bag bans, have been effective in countries with a strong enforcement mechanism. In developing countries, these instruments have been partially effective in the short term due to weak enforcement and lack of compliance, especially in the wholesale market.  The farmer’s market consumes a large number of plastic bags which are commonly given to the consumers for free as a courtesy, from which more than 50% end up in the landfill.

Literature shows that changes in behavior can be observed if alternative solutions are provided to consumers. In the specific case of plastic, biodegradable products could be an option to substitute single-use plastic especially in environments where regulation is low.  Farmers' markets in Costa Rica are well established and have specific guidelines and regulations for its operation, representing an opportunity to work closely and test different strategies to reduce plastic consumption in this sector.

The project's aim is to identify the effect of pricing and default options on consumption behavior when providing environmentally friendly alternatives in the wholesale market. We will implement a field experiment in 12 farmers’ markets in Costa Rica, implementing six different treatments which include providing biodegradable and plastic bags for free, variating the price of the biodegradable and plastic bags, and defining the biodegradable bag as the default option.

Our hypothesis is that consumers will tend to consume more biodegradable bags when they are provided free of charge, a rebound effect of introducing a more “environmentally friendly substitute”. The effect of the default option with the price is anticipated to have a positive effect by reducing plastic consumption as a whole. We anticipate our results to show that more environmentally friendly alternative products free of charge will not necessarily reduce consumption and that might increase the problem and that strategies to reduce the plastic pollution should be oriented to reduce consumption.

Project status
Project | 4 May 2020