Should we tax the plastic bag?

Ireland has introduced an interesting law, which has placed a 15 cent tax on the plastic bag. Combined with an advertising campaign to make the plastic bag unacceptable, use has fallen between 90-94%. Within a few weeks, there was a visual improvement in the number of plastic bags littering the environment. Other countries such as Bangladesh and China have gone further and banned the plastic bag.
Due to its relative success, many are suggesting we should implement this policy in the UK. These are some of the economic, social and environmental arguments in favour of banning the plastic bag.

Advantages of Plastic Tax

  1. Reduces costs to shops. Usually, shops are reluctant to charge for plastic bags. But, if they have to charge, people will be increasingly likely to use alternatives and reuse old bags.
  2. Reduces Litter. Around Oxford, I see a real problem with litter, 50% of which seems to be plastic bags. They get blown into hedgerows and get stuck for years, causing visual blight to the environment. If plastic bag use was discouraged the amount of litter would significantly be reduced.
  3. Plastic Bags not Biodegradeable. Plastic bags take 1000s of years to disintegrate, therefore our landfills are full of plastic bags which don’t breakdown
  4. Bad for Wildlife. Because plastic bags can float around they can often cause problems for wildlife.
  5. Reduce dependence on oil-based products. Because plastic bags are made from the oil they increase our dependence on oil imports. With rising prices of oil, there is an increased desire to avoid oil products where necessary.
  6. Aesthetically pleasing. For those who yearn for the good old days of high street shopping in paper bags, before the advent of the out of town supermarket, banning the plastic bag would encourage people to go back to the basics of shopping.
  7. Tax Raises Revenue. An estimated 10 million Euros
  8. Tax makes people pay the social cost. Using plastic bags creates negative externalities, a tax will make people pay the social cost. At the moment, plastic bags are usually free and therefore, firms subsidise the use of goods with negative externalities.

Disadvantages of Plastic Tax

  1. Plastic bags are useful. For example, they are very useful for picking up dog mess. Ireland has reported an increase in the amount of dog fouling since plastic bags have become more scarce. This, however, is not an insoluble problem.
  2. More difficult to carry shopping. Plastic bags are useful for carrying shopping, people could use reusable bags, but, there is a low take up rate at the moment.

In my view, a plastic tax is a good idea.


17 thoughts on “Should we tax the plastic bag?”

  1. Check out my new blog:

    On my blog I have a downloads menu item. If you click on that there are a number of papers that I have written that can be downloaded.

    One paper titled “Negative Health and Environmental Impacts of Reusable Shopping Bags” deals with the health issues more extensively than you did in the article above. For example, in addition to bacteria, viruses and virus transmission with reusable shopping bags could make other sick. Also, people who have AIDS or a suppressed immune system may be more sensitive to bacteria in reusable bags then people who have normal immune systems. About 20% of the population fit in this category.

    Also, when bag bans are implemented people always complain about all those plastic bags that end up in the landfill. But they have never stopped to calculate all the stuff going into a landfill after a plastic carryout bag ban compared to before. It would surprise you to know that 3 to 4 times the amount of material goes into the landfill post ban than pre ban. Those plastic carryout bags are sure looking good. see my article titled “Fact Sheet – Landfill Impacts” for the details and the calculations.

    There is much more.

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