Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Carrier Bags

I only found out yesterday that the Republic of Ireland had a carrier-bag tax, and decided to find out a bit more.

The levy was introduced in March 2002, and is 15 cents per bag (about 10p) . The results were astonishing - they had used about 1.2 billion bags a year, but this fell to just 85 million bags - a 93% reduction.

Plastic bags are one of those products that are, at the same time, both very handy and a nuisance (in that they hang around for ages, blow about the streets and clog up land-fill sites). They are also an oil derivative and as oil is a scarce resource, perhaps we shouldn't be wasting it on bags.

The Scottish parliament looked at putting a levy on them in Scotland and you can find their report on this here. Amongst other things, the report says:

After taking set-up and administrative costs into account, the food retail industry would benefit from net cost savings from a bag levy. Savings would come from having to buy far fewer plastic carrier bags that are given away for free, while sales of 'bags for life' and bin liners would increase.

However, this would not be the case for non-food retailers. Evidence from the Republic of Ireland from those retailers that switched to paper bags (mainly 'high street' non-food retailers) suggests that greater storage space and more frequent deliveries are now required. This has increased overhead costs for material purchase and transport by over four-fold.

There are also different consumption patterns between food and non-food. For the former, people often shop regularly and can thus plan to take reusable bags with them. For the latter however, it is often an impulse purchase. Overall, retailers feel it would be fairer if all bag materials (not just plastic) and all businesses (small or large) were levied UK-wide.

In terms of system needs for compliance, it is envisaged that larger retailers will find this easier, having computerised systems and greater resource available. There will be a cost associated with administration of the levy, but experience in the Republic of Ireland suggests that the effects were generally positive or neutral. In general, costs are considered modest and, in some cases, are less than the savings the retailers enjoy from buying fewer lightweight plastic carrier bags. Although there have been some reports of problems with increased theft, it is understood that, after an initial rise in theft, retailers state that levels returned to those before the introduction of the levy.


The report concludes that it's not really worth Scotland going ahead with the levy without the rest of the UK, and recommends alternate approaches in the meanwhile, such as voluntary agreements from retailers to promote reusable bags. The UK government has no plans to introduce a levy.

I understand that a Mori poll a while back showed that 63% of Brits were in favour of a levy - but as always with these things, people tend to be in favour in theory, but not in practice.

I must admit that personally I like plastic bags and collect them to bag my rubbish. But I guess if we want less plastic rubbish clogging up Britain we should look at reducing use and I think we should follow the Irish example.

4 comments:

Mark Wadsworth said...

It's partly a cultural thing.

Between the mid-eighties and mid-nineties, the Germans switched over from using plastic carrier bags to using long-life cloth bags. I can't remember whether there was a tax on them (direct or indirect) or whether supermarkets just sold the cloth bags (complete with logo) for cheap or started charging for plastic bags. But using plastic bags just became frowned upon. And that always works.

From being a big fan of plastic bags I became a big fan of cloth bags (easier to carry as most have a shoulder strap but obviously not water-proof!) and since I moved back to UK I have got used to plastic bags again - the cheapest bin liners there are!

Ah well.

traffic.One said...

plastic carrier bags.

am sure the British will be very co-operative on this one.

Having said that, for me, the subject does not quicken the pulse though.

Andrew Brown said...

I wouldn't mind a plastic bag tax, but the real gains are to be had in getting business to use less packaging, or to reinvent the packaging they use.

At the moment the pressures on business and the public sector to reduce their waste seem very marginal compared with the ones that are starting to be applied to individuals.

Rajiv Badlani said...

Plastic bags are harmful and wasteful. And we mow make a cloth bag that takes care of all the disadvantages cloth bags appeared to have.

Not waterproof? This one is.

And it folds into a tiny pouch that easily tucks into a pocket or a handbag, and has a shoulder strap, and carries as much as 3 plastic bags, and has a zipper closure and is really low priced and can be used a thousand times...

Have a look at it on my blog (http://www.badlani.com/blog). In my city we're now trying to find sponsors to advertise on it so it can be given away at stores for next to nothing.