It’s in the Bag? The Effect of Plastic Carryout Bag Bans on Where and What People Purchase to Eat

52 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2020 Last revised: 1 Oct 2021

See all articles by Rebecca Taylor

Rebecca Taylor

The University of Sydney - School of Economics

Date Written: July 14, 2021


This paper examines how banning the use of plastic carryout bags at grocery stores affects where and what people purchase to eat. Using quasi-random variation in local bag ban adoption across California and two data sources (retail scanner data and consumer survey data), I show that banning plastic carryout bags shifted some food sales away from regulated grocery stores towards unregulated grocery stores and restaurants. Specifically, I find that bag bans cause a 1.8% decline in food-at-home sales and a 1.9 percentage point increase in consumers' food-away-from-home expenditure share. The decline in food-at-home sales is larger in jurisdictions more likely to experience cross-border shopping whereas the increase in food-away-from-home expenditures is larger farther from jurisdiction borders. Together these results suggest that a small share of consumers find a way to bypass the bag bans, either by cross-border shopping if near a border or by shifting to restaurants if not near a border. Heterogeneity analyses reveal the policy effects are strongest for those with higher incomes, those under 65 years, and those with young children, suggesting both income effects and time constraints as mechanisms behind the behavioral change. By quantifying consumer avoidance behaviors, these results enable policymakers to more accurately measure the impacts of their regulations and to understand the potential trade-offs between their environmental and public health objectives.

Keywords: plastic bag bans, consumer behavior, policy avoidance, food-at-home, food-away-from-home, unintended consequences, cross-border shopping, event study

JEL Classification: Q18, Q58, D12

Suggested Citation

Taylor, Rebecca, It’s in the Bag? The Effect of Plastic Carryout Bag Bans on Where and What People Purchase to Eat (July 14, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Rebecca Taylor (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney - School of Economics ( email )

Rm 370 Merewether (H04)
Sydney, NSW 2006

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