Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Stopping Plastic Shopping Bags - Money Talks

This seems like a sensible plan to dramatically reduce plastic bag use.

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.

I have always felt that gentle persuasion is not enough to get people to stop using plastic grocery bags. I am the worst offender. We have plenty recyclable bags and I even have them in the car, but I am lazy. Retailers here make it easy in the sense that they are readily available when you check out, but you have to pay, a powerful disincentive. Punishing lazy behaviour with a charge for plastic bags would change behaviour very quickly here. When the South Australian Government introduced incentives to stop using them, the most successful were the retailers who charged for plastic bags. They probably cut their use by a similar amount to that of Ireland.

Thanks The New York Times


Lara Robinson said...

That's fascinating that the retailers that have added an economic incentive to stopping a behavior have been the most successful. A 33 cent tax isn't exorbinant either... just enough to remind you that you could have saved a buck by bringing your own bag. Sounds like a good sound policy for doing the right thing! I've written a Plastic Bag Reduction Policy for Colorado in the U.S. recently... check it out and see if it makes sense. www.lararobinson.blogspot.com

Steve Hayes said...

We've had something similar here in South Africa for about 5 years now. A law was passed requiring bags to me made stronger, and supermarkets charge for them. Unemployment rose as plastic bag manufacturers went out of business, but gradually things went back to what they were before. People still use bags, only now they pay for them. Only rarely do people remember to take bags with them when they go shopping. I often forget myself, and most people before and behind me in the check-out queue take bags.

Colin Campbell said...


South Australia is quite progressive in this area. They are the only state with a financial incentive to recycle cans and bottles with a levy rather like in some parts of the US. Here there is a real shortage of landfill space and there is a keen awareness of the impact of plastic bags on the marine environment, leaving aside the overall resource impact.

You have an interesting blog covering an important contemporary issue.

I strongly believe that the tools are there to change behaviour in this area.


I am definitely in the lazy group, but a financial incentive would motivate me.

Steve Hayes said...

What motivates me is when the old bread bin that holds used plastic bags begins overflowing. It reminds me to take some next time I got to the shop.

River said...

Had a comment here but google/blogger refused to publish it. Claimed I used an incorrect password. Hmmpff!

Shades said...

One naff UK retailer (Kwik-Save) charges for bags (1p, if I remember correctly). That works pretty well, especially when they let you take away their cardboard boxes that they would otherwise have to recycle.

Used carrier bags are useful though, we re-use most of them- for Guinea Pig cage clearouts, document shreds and sundry non-food use.

LadyBanana said...

I do try to take my re-usable bags as often as I can but there are always the unexpected things I suddenly remember I need, and have no bag with me.

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