UK Plastic bag charge – a real environmental tax

A 5p charge for plastic bags is to be introduced in 2015 in England the LibDems have announced. The tax is to discourage the use of plastic bags – and given the concerns that many have over the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and its smaller brother in the Atlantic this has to be the right thing to do.

To quote from the BBC:,

“Scientists have discovered an area of the North Atlantic Ocean where plastic debris accumulates.

The region is said to compare with the well-documented “great Pacific garbage patch”.

The maximum “plastic density” was 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometre.”

Its interesting that the European Commission has not pursued the idea of a plastic bag tax, but then again as EC packaging regulations for fresh food create a significant part of European plastic rubbish maybe its not so surprising.

The charge, which will only apply to supermarkets and larger stores, will begin after the 2015 election, with the proceeds going to charities.

A similar charge applying to the single-use carrier bags made from both plastic and paper is already in effect in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan, this week announced he was not going ahead with plans to raise the levy to 10p per bag, because the present arrangements were proving successful in discouraging bag use.

He said data from major supermarkets showed there had been an 80% reduction in plastic bag use since the levy was brought in.

Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said the charge would only raise “pretty small amounts” for charity, as its intention was to get people to reduce the amount they use.

“We are very clear that none of this money will come to government, we are not trying to tax people, we are trying to change people’s behaviour, encourage much more environmentally-friendly behaviour.”

Spain, Denmark, Ireland and Bulgaria all have such taxes and in the US, Pennsylvania is considering its introduction.

There are two interesting aspects to the proposal, first is the recognition that the tax is aimed at changing behaviour so the government does not see it as a source of revenue ( which is what we have described in the ICC paper on Environmental Taxation principles in defining environmental taxation). Second is the hypothecation of the proceeds to charities which are involved in this area. Hypothecation divides opinion (certainly in business) – perhaps this type of  approach with proceeds being targeted to addressing the issue will find wider support and application.

One Response to UK Plastic bag charge – a real environmental tax

  1. Kieran O'Connor October 9, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    I have always wondered about green taxes – and this is great example.

    1. Let me ask – if the average person is at the checkout in Londis, (perhaps shopping on their way home from work) they don’t have a bag with them so will the 5p cost of a carrier bag persuade then to carry their frozen peas in their pocket instead of taking a bag? I think not.

    2. Say they pay the 5p in the instance above – and it goes to the government. Where does it end up? In another ‘green initiative’? Well, maybe. Let’s be charitable and say it does – how does that 5p get spent? Perhaps as part of a grant to an ‘eco project’ – so really it goes towards salaries, advertising, conferences, leaflets, publicity – the list goes on.

    Now, in the scenario outlined above – has the 5p made any contribution towards saving the planet? None whatever.

    And this is my point – so called green taxes are just for perpetuating debate, lining pockets of those with a vested interest or maybe they just get lost in the swamp that is the government budget. All in all it’s just posturing.

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