We want market vendors to combine produce into one bag so that plastic pollution is reduced.

Fondazione ACRA
European SWITCH


Reducing plastic bag usage in Cambodian markets

In 2015, the average Cambodian used more than 2000 plastic bags per year; approximately 40 bags per week. That’s around five times the average bag usage in Europe and the highest plastic bag use per capita in the world. Plastic bags end up in landfills or in the ocean, causing harm to the environment and animals. Fondazione ACRA identified plastic bag use at fresh food and “wet” markets as an opportunity for drastic change, since this is where plastic bags are heavily used.

17 Triggers conducted field research in markets, with vendors and customers, to understand why plastic bags are so commonly used and motivators or barriers to reducing use.

Quick concept testing to see what visual and message resonates with wet market customers in Phnom Penh.

A breakthrough moment was the realization that customers don’t actually mind if vendors give them fewer plastic bags. In fact, market vendors didn’t want to appear stingy to customers by failing to give them a plastic bag and therefore never tried to optimize bag use. Here, there was a misunderstanding of expectations by vendors – if they gave less bags would customers really notice? Parallel to this, the team discovered that environmental messaging didn’t work to motivate behavior change, but vendors were interested in saving money on plastic bags.

Change the Default: Combine All in One

During a three week market trial and several rounds of prototype testing, the “Combine all in one” concept was created, in which vendors would simply ask “Can I combine in your existing bag?” By transforming the default behavior of individual bags for food items, vendors were able to see that their assumption, that customers want individual bags, was not necessarily true.

Visual displays remind vendors of the “Combine all in one” concept during the market trial.

This was an integrated campaign, involving mass media, social media, market activations, and training of trainers. This solution included a “Combine all in one” fruit lady, a jovial personality featured on a TV commercial that became a viral sensation. A variety of stakeholders were involved in the process along the way, which created buy-in and ensured that the solution was acceptable to customers, vendors, and environmental specialists.

Over 800 vendors were trained in the intervention in Phnom Penh and, on average, there was a 40% reduction in the number of plastic bags distributed by vendors. The ACRA-funded project, in collaboration with QuickSand studio, was featured in CNA’s Field Guide to Innovation series, focusing especially on the human centered design process’ ability to transform a simple service.