It's in the bag? The effect of plastic carryout bag bans on where and what people purchase to eat (American Journal of Agricultural Economics, forthcoming)
Abstract: 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.
Unemployment Insurance as a Worker Indiscipline Device? Evidence from Scanner Data, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, forthcoming, with Lester Lusher and Geoffrey Schnorr (IZA Discussion Paper)
Abstract: We provide causal evidence of an ex ante moral hazard effect of Unemployment Insurance (UI) by matching plausibly exogenous changes in UI benefit duration across state-weeks during the Great Recession to high-frequency productivity measures from individual supermarket cashiers. Estimating models with date and cashier-register fixed effects, we identify a modest but statistically significant negative relationship between UI benefits and worker productivity. This effect is strongest for more experienced and less productive cashiers, for whom UI expansions are especially relevant. Additional analyses from the American Time Use Survey reveal a similar increase in shirking during periods with increased UI benefit durations.
Bag Leakage: The Effect of Disposable Carryout Bag Regulations on Unregulated Bags, Journal of Environmental Economics and Management (preprint)
Winner of the JEEM Best Paper Prize 2020
Abstract: Leakage occurs when partial regulation of consumer products results in increased consumption of these products in unregulated domains. This article quantifies plastic leakage from the banning of plastic carryout bags. Using quasi-random policy variation in California, I find the elimination of 40 million pounds of plastic carryout bags is offset by a 12 million pound increase in trash bag purchases—with small, medium, and tall trash bag sales increasing by 120%, 64%, and 6%, respectively. The results further reveal 12–22% of plastic carryout bags were reused as trash bags pre-regulation and show bag bans shift consumers towards fewer but heavier bags. With a substantial proportion of carryout bags already reused in a way that avoided the manufacture and purchase of another plastic bag, policy evaluations that ignore leakage effects overstate the regulation’s welfare gains.
A Mixed Bag: The Hidden Time Costs of Regulating Consumer Behavior, Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (preprint)
Abstract: The nonmonetary costs consumers experience from regulations are challenging to quantify and, thus, easily overlooked. Using quasi-experimental policy variation and high-frequency supermarket data, this paper identifies previously hidden time costs from policies that ban or tax the use of disposable carryout bags. Bag policies disrupt checkout procedures, causing a 3% increase in supermarket checkout duration. Given the capacity-constrained queueing system of supermarket checkout, the slowdown of individual customers compounds into congestion larger than the individual slowdown during peak shopping hours. These hassle costs do not disappear over time and, instead, persist at least 2 years after policy implementation. Customers are also sensitive to these costs—with a 1-minute increase in average checkout duration leading to a 1.2% drop in the likelihood customers return to the store in subsequent weeks. The results show that ignoring time costs, as well as institutional constraints, overstates the welfare gains from policy-induced behavioral change.
Bans vs. Fees: Disposable Carryout Bag Policies and Bag Usage, Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, with Sofia B. Villas-Boas
Abstract: Using observational data on consumer carryout bag usage, we measure the effects of disposable bag policies on disposable and reusable bag demand. Our results show that plastic bag bans coupled with paper bag fees decrease total disposable bag demand but lead to significant increases in paper bag consumption. We compare our results to a study on bag fees and find that both policies lead to similar increases in reusable bag usage. However, the success of bans versus fees in discouraging disposable bag usage is contingent upon the types and prices of bags that stores choose to sell in lieu of disposable plastic.
Harnessing Behavioral Science to Design Disposable Bag Regulations, Behavioral Science and Policy (forthcoming), with Tatiana Homonoff, Lee-Sien Kao, and Doug Palmer
Abstract: Regulation of single-use plastic products is at the center of much policy debate. Currently, there are over 400 laws in the US aimed at curbing disposable shopping bag use. Some regulators opt for command-and-control policies that ban disposable plastic bags, while others use market-based incentives like taxes on disposable bags or rewards for reusable bag use—choices that may greatly impact the policy’s effectiveness. In this paper, we review the evidence on the effectiveness of these policy design choices through a behavioral economics lens and highlight best practices for policymakers considering similar legislation.
Recycling Policies, Behavior and Convenience: Survey Evidence from the CalRecycle Program, Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, with Peter Berck, Gabriel Englander, Samantha Gold, Shelley He, Janet Horsager, Scott Kaplan, Molly Sears, Andrew Stevens, Carly Trachtman, and Sofia B. Villas-Boas
Abstract: AB2020 established a deposit‐refund system in California, where consumers are reimbursed the California Redemption Value (CRV) upon recycling eligible containers at a recycling center. We study recycling under this policy, focusing on consumer convenience, reported recycling and diversion behavior, and responses to changes in the CRV amount. We find that consumers prefer nearby centers with flexible operating hours and short waiting times. While the CRV induces recycling, an increase in CRV would not lead to major recycling increases, given the limited number of containers entering trash streams. Finally, most diverted containers are taken from trash streams, not curbside recycling bins.
Food Store Choices of Poor Households: A Discrete Choice Analysis of the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), American Journal of Agricultural Economics, with Sofia B. Villas-Boas
Abstract: Policymakers are pursing initiatives to increase food access for low-income households. However, due in part to previous data deficiencies, there is still little evidence supporting the assumption that improved food store access will alter dietary habits, especially for the poorest of U.S. households. This article uses the new National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to estimate consumer food outlet choices as a function of outlet type and household attributes in a multinomial mixed logit. In particular, we allow for the composition of the local retail food environment to play a role in explaining household store choice decisions and food acquisition patterns. We find that (1) households are willing to pay more per week in distance traveled to shop at Superstores, Supermarkets, and Fast Food outlets than at Farmers Markets and smaller Grocery Stores, and (2) willingness to pay is heterogeneous across income group, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation, and other household and food environment characteristics. Our results imply that policymakers should consider incentivizing the building of certain outlet types over others, and that Healthy Food Financing Initiatives should be designed to fit the sociodemographic composition of each identified low-income, low-access area in question.
Soda Wars: Effect of Soda Tax Election on University Soda Purchases, Economic Inquiry, with Scott Kaplan, Sofia B. Villas-Boas, and Kevin Jung (preprint)
Abstract: We examine how soda sales changed due to the campaign attention and election outcome of a local excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Using panel data of beverage sales from university retailers in Berkeley, California, we estimate that soda purchases relative to control beverages significantly dropped immediately after the election, months before the tax was implemented in the city of Berkeley or on campus. Supplemental scanner data from off-campus retailers reveal this result is not unique to the university setting. Our findings suggest soda tax media coverage and election outcomes can have larger effects on purchasing behavior than the tax itself.
Effects of Peer Comparisons on Low-promotability Tasks: Evidence from a University Field Experiment, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, with Sofia B. Villas-Boas and Elizabeth Deakin
Abstract: Governance—the way rules are set and implemented—in many institutions is sustained through the service of groups of individuals, performing low-promotability tasks. For instance, the success of not-for-profit professional societies, civic organizations, and public universities depends on the willingness of members and employees to serve in governance. Typically service is requested by annual calls to serve. We implement and analyze a field experiment at a large public university using a randomized experimental design, to investigate whether responses to calls to serve are affected by revealing a department’s service rankings among its peer departments. We find that revealing a service ranking in the lowest quartile leads to significantly higher response rates than disclosing a median and higher-than-median ranking. Second, beyond informing department heads of their departments’ service rank, directly informing individual faculty members does not have an additional effect on response rates. Third, we show that the treatment effects in the lowest serving quartile are driven by female faculty responses, even though female faculty members were no more likely than their male peers to respond to serve before the experiment. If taking on such tasks is detrimental to promotion, while important for the overall institution, this has implications for the faculty careers of women and men. We discuss potential mechanisms behind the results; formally testing these mechanisms is an area for future research.
Diffusion of Drip Irrigation: The Case of California, Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, with David Zilberman
Abstract: This article provides insights to the state of the literature on the economics of drip irrigation adoption and diffusion. Our literature review finds the methodological approaches to study diffusion—conceptual modeling, empirical analysis, and historical narratives—are complementary, yet, historical analyses have been underemphasized. To address this gap, we conduct a historical analysis of the diffusion of drip irrigation in California. Our 45 year narrative highlights that successful adoption of drip to diverse crops and locations required (1) coevolution of the technology and complementary production processes and (2) joint effort by private and public experts at the local level.
WORKS IN PROGRESS
BOOK CHAPTERS & REPORTS
The Plastic Economy: A review of the positive and negative impacts of plastic and its alternatives, Environmental Defense Fund Economics Discussion Paper Series, 21(5), with Lihini De Silva and Jacqueline Doremus
Convenient Beverage Recycling in California. A Report to the California State Legislature, with Peter Berck, Gabriel Englander, Samantha Gold, Shelley He, Janet Horsager, Scott Kaplan, Molly Sears, Andrew Stevens, Carly Trachtman, and Sofia B. Villas-Boas
Willingness to Pay for Low Water Footprint Foods During Drought, Chapter in NBER book "Understanding Productivity Growth in Agriculture", editor Wolfram Schlenker, with Hannah Krovetz and Sofia B. Villas-Boas
Plastic Bag Bans Can Backfire if Consumers Just Use Other Plastics Instead, The Conversation.
Lessons from Berkeley’s Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Election and Tax, ARE Update, with Scott Kaplan, Sofia B. Villas-Boas, and Kevin Jung
How Politics and Economics Affect Irrigation and Conservation, Choices, with David Zilberman, Myung Eun Shim, and Ben Gordon.
Research Finds Plastic Bag Bans Result in Unintended Consequences, NPR's Here and Now.
Are Plastic Bag Bans Garbage, NPR's PlanetMoney Newsletter.
Plastic Bag Bans, Data Skeptic Podcast.
See the complicated landscape of plastic bans in the U.S., National Geographic.
Why banning plastic bags doesn't work as intended, Chicago Booth Review.