It’s in the news today that supermarkets just missed their target of 50% reduction in plastic bag use (they got to 48%). I’m not a big fan of supermarkets but I think on this one they need to be congratulated. Remember the reaction against proposals to tax plastic bags, and how, many believed, people would never change their habits.
Far too many bags are still used but a 48% reduction is a massive improvement. If businesses and the public can get their act together on this issue, what other seemingly impossible environmental problems might we solve? It may also suggest that it’s better tonudge people into doing the right thing (like the clever question the checkout assistant was trained to ask), rather than taxing them into behavioural change.
50% sounds great, doesn’t it?
But in Ireland the introduction of a plastic bag tax in 2002 cut the use of plastic bags immediately by 90%, and created millions of Euros in government revenues which were pledged for use in environmental projects. Cutting ours by 50% is nothing to be proud of in comparison to that figure, especially as much of that 50% is people like Rob, me, and you, dear reader. The remaining 50% are inevitably going to be much harder to reach. Even with Tesco offering the carrot of Nectar card points for every bag reused, this is still too slow. It’s time to get out the sticks.
Like it or not, taxation is the most effective behaviour change lever government has. As Anthony Giddens suggests is in The Politics of Climate Change these are levers we’re going to have to use, and not be afraid of using. But the revenue used from these taxes must be used creatively and positively if we’re going to trust the system. Denmark’s carbon taxes, introduced in the 90s, have created an absolute fall in Co2 emissions from that country not only because they disincentivise carbon use, but because the revenue created by the fed directly back into subsidising energy-saving measures.
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