The 5p “plastic bag charge” (only in effect in Wales… for the time being) is complete and utter insanity. Here are a few reasons, but there are doubtless many more:
1. The purported reason for the tax (which makes it illegal for companies to give away plastic bags at checkout, instead requiring them to charge 5p, the proceeds of which will go to council approved charities or something) is to encourage people to reuse plastic bags and thus help the environment.
I can tell you personally that since the law I have been using, I estimate, about 4 times more total plastic in my bag purchases than before. If plastic bags are bad for the environment my actions in this area are now about 4x as bad as before. Why? Well I’ll explain:
Before, supermarkets would give away the bags for free. They would be very thin and cheap bags that cost a fraction of a penny to produce and supermarkets could afford to give them away. They also offered bags you could pay for, 10p bags which were made of a stronger more durable plastic… these bags were made using much more plastic in total, quite obviously.
Well now because the supermarkets MUST charge at least 5p the crappy plastic bags have disappeared and now ONLY the good quality bags are for sale because the supermarkets (knowing what consumers want) realise that if they’re getting 5-10p for a bag that customers will want a nice bag.
Rather than remembering to bring bags to the supermarket, however, I simply forget every time because the cost is fairly trivial and I end up having to buy 3-4 thick quality plastic bags every time I shop. I GUARANTEE that the total plastic I’m using now is far greater than before. Before I used thin bags which used a small amount of plastic, now I use ones which use waaaaaaaaay more. The net effect? More plastic being produced and used in bags. The other net effect? More money has gone towards the government who were only able to get supermarkets to stop doing the nice thing of giving you free bags by violently threatening them with legislation.
But that’s not all… the law is stupid *on the face of it*…
2. The other day I went into Tescos to purchase plastic pockets for my business. A plastic pocket uses probably slightly more plastic than the old style very thin Tesco carrier bags. I went to the stationary section and I purchased 1000 plastic pockets… One thousand. I then went to the checkout and was forced by law to pay for one additional plastic bag that the supermarket would otherwise have given me. Would this not be considered insanity if aliens were observing our habits? How can I ethically buy 1000 plastic pockets but then need to pay 5p for an unncessarily wieldy plastic bag in order to ‘protect the environment’ … ?!?!?! WHAT?!??!
3. EVERYTHING IN THE SUPERMARKET IS WRAPPED IN PLASTIC. I can’t make this any clearer than it is. Walk around a supermarket. About 80% of the tens of thousands of products they hold are wrapped in plastic. Plastic. Plastic. Plastic. People are overflowing their trollies with things all wrapped in plastic. Some things are so intensely packed in plastic that you have to buy scissors packed in plastic just to get the plsatic off. IT’S ALL PLASTIC. But then a plastic BAG is a symbol of our wasteful society? It’s absurd. It’s legislation for legislation’s sake. It is just a giant inconveneince to customers and businesses and serves only the state and special interests (I’m sure the people who manufacture the thicker plastic bags are LOVING the law).
4. This final one is a little more abstract but it’s kind of true. The law has actually made it HARDER for stores to identify thieves. Especially in clothing stores. Where before everybody leaving would have their purchases in a bag and thus those leaving without one (and holding items) would be naturally suspicious now we have a situation where it’s quite normal for people to decline a bag and walk out carrying their things to save themselves the 5p… thus all things being equal more money will need to be spent on security in every store and more of the costs of shrinkage will be passed onto consumers. This is one of the many unintended consequences which predictably follows ALL government interventions into the marketplace.
These are just a few of my thoughts and observations on this topic. Most people brush the law aside as a silly issue to get worked up on… after all what is 5p? But it’s a metaphor for ALL state actions and without a core libertarian/economic underpinning to your own thinking then stuff like this will get by you all the time.
Don’t swallow the bullshit.