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A single-use bag tax can deliver significant benefits


Sir, I note with a degree of frustration your article extolling a tax on single-use bags. I remain wholly unconvinced that they are a worthy target of such dedicated treatment. You accept that they do not represent a significant fraction of our waste stream (a big understatement – they are positively insignificant), and the latest report from Keep Britain Tidy (1) ranks them way down the list of most frequently littered items (behind such things as smokers materials, confectionery wrappers and drinks packaging), so this is not a valid driver, either. Although I think the above irrefutable, my frustration is not about whether or not the humble carrier bag deserves such attention. My main point is that I’ve yet to be convinced that a carrier bag tax is actually good for the environment. Yes, imposing the tax causes folk to use fewer single-use bags, but that’s not because they’re not shopping – what are they using instead? Last year’s study for the Environment Agency (2) concluded that cotton bags for life need to used at least 131 times to outperform (on the measure of climate change) single-use bags, and that assumes the latter aren’t reused as bin liners, in which case the numbers get even bigger. I’m sure everyone is getting better at reusing bags – but are we collectively good enough yet to be having a net positive effect on the environment? Single-use bags may be in decline, but sales of bags for life, cotton bags and indeed bin liners are surely increasing, together (I presume) with supermarket profits on those items. The article concludes that taxing plastic bags leads to the use of fewer bags and that is good for the environment. Perhaps I might suggest, using the same logic, that fuel taxes should be increased? Now there’s something the Government might like to try... Simon Gandy Principal Consultant AEA Technology Waste Management and Resource Efficiency Team (1) The State of England’s Local Environment, Keep Britain Tidy, March 2012 (2) Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier bags: a review of the bags available in 2006, Report: SC030148, The Environment Agency, February 2011

Posted date

2 July, 2012

Posted time

12:29 pm