Skipping the Bag: The Intended and Unintended Consequences of Disposable Bag Regulation

Tatiana Homonoff, Lee Sien Kao, Javiera Selman, Christina Seybolt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Regulation of goods associated with negative environmental externalities may decrease consumption of the targeted product, but may be ineffective at reducing the externality itself if close substitutes are left unregulated. We find evidence that plastic bag bans, the most common disposable bag regulation in the U.S., led retailers to circumvent the regulation by providing free thicker plastic bags, which are not covered by the ban. In contrast, a regulation change that replaced the ban with a small tax on all disposable bags generated large decreases in disposable bag use and overall environmental costs. Our results suggest that narrowly defined regulations (such as plastic bag bans) may be less effective than policies that target a more comprehensive set of products, even in the case when the policy instrument itself (a tax rather than a ban) is not as strict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)226-251
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Policy Analysis and Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2022


  • environmental regulation
  • taxation
  • unintended consequences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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