It's in the bag? The effect of plastic carryout bag bans on where and what people purchase to eat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 toward 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1563-1584
Number of pages22
JournalAmerican Journal of Agricultural Economics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics


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