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I’m backing the Daily Mail


8:40 am - February 28th 2008

by Sunny Hundal    


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Well there’s a headline I never thought I’d write. It may normally be the epitome of all evil, but yesterday I was taken aback by a front-page campaign in the Mail calling for a ban on plastic bags. No really, they’re being serious about it.

There were pictures of animals dying because of plastic bags, like above, in the paper and on its website. I’m impressed. There’s even a petition I’ve signed (though I did feel slightly dirty after).

Could the Irish and M&S lead the way here? [updated]

An article in the New York Times earlier this month illustrated what happened when Dublin decided to put a tax on plastic bags.

In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. There was an advertising awareness campaign. And then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts.

Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.

In the past few months, several countries have announced plans to eliminate the bags. Bangladesh and some African nations have sought to ban them because they clog fragile sewerage systems, creating a health hazard. Starting this summer, China will prohibit sellers from handing out free plastic shopping bags, but the price they should charge is not specified, and there is little capacity for enforcement. Australia says it wants to end free plastic bags by the end of the year, but has not decided how.

In one stroke the Daily Mail has put this issue back on the political agenda and for that it must be applauded. The question is, will politicians heed?

Could Ken Livingstone be persuaded to promise to ban plastic bags from London? Could Boris Johnson? I’m assuming Sian Berry already wants this to happen. Brian Paddick has little in the way of environmental policies.

What are your thoughts conspirators? An outright ban or a huge tax? Or only voluntary action?

Update: The Guardian reports that Marks & Spencers today announced they would charge 5p for every bag. Good on them.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


“Brian Paddick has little in the way of environmental policies” – oh come on, that’s just rubbish.

Banning??

That’s a bit much. Why not make it a consumer campaign? Make a fuss and shame stores into proving something biodegradable?

This could be something achievable without the cogs of government.

Banning seems a bit harsh, but at the moment I do use my own bags at the checkout (when I remember to bring them), which usually entails me arguing with the cashier and trying to prevent him or her from automatically putting my goods into their own plastic bags, usually at a rough ratio of 3 items per bag. When I produce my own bags they tend to look at me as if I am mad.

So it doesn’t need to be much, any action that stops me looking like a freak would be a good start. Admittedly there are other things about me that appear freakish, but let’s take it one step at a time.

The Waste Resources Action Programme (government funded body responsible for cutting landfilled waste) reckon a plastic bag tax would increase waste. That Irish example you’re so happy with didn’t turn out well.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2007/09/28/eaplastic128.xml

“Industry sources say that Ireland’s levy on plastic bags led to five times more plastic being used.

WRAP doubts this estimate but says it calculates that a ban or a levy would still lead to more plastic being used than at present because one form of bag would be substituted by another.”

A ban would probably have even worse effects. Even if didn’t the idea that plastic bags (which are reasonably inert) being landfilled causes any serious damage is a bit stretched. They just sit there. As for animals being killed. That can happen with a lot of human waste when just dropped on the street. The key is getting people to bin their litter rather than what that litter is or what happens next.

It is a shame that, as with the Climate Camp, the Daily Mail is willing to indulge the greens on this. It is also a shame that you were willing to sign up to a campaign so hastily. Penn & Teller once got a load of lefties to sign up to a campaign to ban dihydrogen monoxide – i.e. water. You’re apparently little more discerning.

I’d certainly support a greater charge being made for the bags to more truly reflect their cost.

>>Brian Paddick has little in the way of environmental policies.

That’s a bit of lazy swipe though. I know you don’t like him since Rowangate, but his website promises he will launch detailed policies on the environment prior to the election, alongside those he has already put forward in other areas.

He also opposes Heathrow expansion, on environmental grounds:

http://www.brianpaddick.org/brian-pledges-to-fight-heathrow-extension-plans-293

Great environmental move: ban something which is visible but almost completely harmless, and instead drive a major modal shift towards car use [paper bags are fine for shop-to-car, but no bloody use on a bus; bags-for-life are great if your trip involves the home -> shop -> home drive but no bloody use if you’re going work -> shop -> home on public transport].

Taxing supermarket parking spaces would *actually help* the environment, but that might inconvenience Joe Mondeo so can never ever happen…

As a liberal I’d rather tax than ban.

John B, why can’t you take bags to work if you plan to go to the shops on the way home? I do.

I’m with John B here, as always the government and others will always completely ignore greater environmental issues…though I personally disagree that people should be taxed for using supermarket spaces given that may be the only time they use a car so it’s a disproportionate charge. But I don’t really agree that the effects of bags are “harmless”.

I have however realised another thing that the £2billion could be spent on instead of ID cards, very strong “bags for life” free for every household. In fact this would be a drop in the ocean of the £2billion budget so would be able to be sustained for decades to come.

To me this is the only way that banning can work, is for people to have enough bags that they can put some in their car, have some at home, etc. Even then some basic level of plastic bags are going to be needed, and environmentalists aren’t too hot on biodegradable because of the complications it can cause and inadvertently be worse for the environment than a non-biodegradable bag.

And yet again where are the official calls for unnecessary packaging to be scrapped from supermarket shelves? There are many other things that could be done, and for instance one thing that I’ve been pondering over here is these new “concentrated lenor” type adverts. If they are so good for the environment (half size bottle, half packaging, half the lorries needed to transport them, same amount of use as normal conditioner etc) then why don’t companies simply *stop* making the less environmentally friendly versions? Anyone can mix concentrated with tap water so there is really no excuse to continue with environmentally unfriendly practice…yet they are allowed to do so.

I think it is pretty daft to suggest that, on the one hand, we should be inconveniencing ‘Mondeo Joe’ and, on the other, that is too much for people with functioning brains to have the odd bag for life stashed about the place. The latter requires a lot less effort than forcing people to take their toddlers on public transport, which is not just a drag for the parent, but everyone else. It’s not just ‘Mondeo Joe’ who would be inconvenienced.

I would love to see a modal shift away from cars but I really don’t see a bit of taxation on parking spaces as being the solution. Supermarkets will probably just end up offering to waive it for paying customers anyway, since one will do it and the rest will be forced to follow.

John B, why can’t you take bags to work if you plan to go to the shops on the way home? I do.

Well, it’s not actually a problem for me, since I live 300 metres from a very large supermarket – but I don’t think that’s typical. But I’ve never in my life “planned to go to the shops” (is that a gender thing? ISTR when I worked in retail research that something like 80% of women go shopping with a Plan and a List, whereas 80% of men don’t). I suppose keeping a stock of bags under my desk on the off-chance would be a possibility.

The latter requires a lot less effort than forcing people to take their toddlers on public transport

Who’s forcing anyone to take their toddlers on PT? Just not bringing their toddlers to the supermarket would be a better plan for all concerned (have never worked out why the hell a non-single parent would want to put themselves and other shoppers through this – I suspect even most single parents with cars also have access to such things as nursery schools, day care centres, grandparents, neighbours for half an hour…)

And yet again where are the official calls for unnecessary packaging to be scrapped from supermarket shelves?

Agreed – if we’re going to use compulsory measures here, in-store packaging is a much better place to start.

“Brian Paddick has little in the way of environmental policies” – oh come on, that’s just rubbish.

Janvrin / Publicansdecoy – well I went through his website and found very little on a coherent environmental policy. The priorities page on his website mentions almost nothing about the environment. As for Heathrow – I applaud that decision but even Boris Johnson has signed up to that. The question is – how does he take that agenda forward, not simply stick with the status quo.

john b – Agreed – if we’re going to use compulsory measures here, in-store packaging is a much better place to start.

Agreed, but one does not exclude the other. There have been repeated calls by environmental groups on packaging.

bags-for-life are great if your trip involves the home -> shop -> home drive but no bloody use if you’re going work -> shop -> home on public transport

Well I do that – use bags for life on the home->shop->home run and on the public transport / walking. Don’t see the problem. Instead of paper bags you could use the thicker plastic bags or the jute bags as seen in the NYT article.

Of course when Aldi/Netto/Lidl did it….

Matthew:
The Waste Resources Action Programme (government funded body responsible for cutting landfilled waste)

I thought it was against your principles to start agreeing with govt funded quangoes? 🙂

That Irish example you’re so happy with didn’t turn out well.

I thought a man of your intellect would be able to tell that when a newspaper runs the “industry sources say…” line, it is basically pushing its own editorial agenda. The NYT article flatly contradicts your “industry sources”.

Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent.

Care to name these sources?

As for animals being killed. That can happen with a lot of human waste when just dropped on the street. The key is getting people to bin their litter rather than what that litter is or what happens next.

I agree, but plastic bags compound the problem and there isn’t any harm in dealing with issues that compound the damage, is there? And how exactly do you intend to change people’s habits on dropping litter on the street… that won’t involve taxes / incentives?

Sunny,

The NYT article doesn’t contradict me at all, flatly or otherwise. Look at what it actually says.

“Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent.”

Well, that’s not surprising. I bet if you banned them use would drop 100%. The point, that WRAP have recognised – I’m quite willing to believe they’re wrong but at the moment they’re our only source, is that it’s about what you replace plastic bags with. The replacements tend to create more waste – it appears they did in Ireland.

Stopping people dropping litter in the street is simply a matter of social sanction and community pride. I know that doesn’t translate clearly into policy but there are some problems that don’t have neat policy lever fixes.

Matt

They should really band bags if animals are going to continue to die like that!!


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