The plastic bag tax is a farce

It’s a win-win, right? If a customer uses fewer bags – the policy works, or a customer pays to use bags and the money goes to charity.

Well it’s not.

Using fewer resources may arguably be a good thing, but that is where the thought process seems to have stopped for those campaigning for and voting on this policy. We hear cries of ‘something must be done’, ‘this is something’ and ‘this must be done’ and before anyone quite realizes what is happening, the policy is voted through. Once again our elected representatives support a policy based on virtue signalling rather than practical outcome.

The unintended consequences of this policy are anything but virtuous.

Firstly, let’s dispel this myth of there being some virtuosity of the money going to charity. Under this policy you are not only forced to donate, but you get zero choice over who the money goes to. Consumers are effectively being forced to give £1.5bn to large retailers to pass on to charities of their choice, this surely isn’t right.

Ironically (and predictably) on the day the policy was first implemented in England, it was amusing to note that Sainsbury’s had in fact increased the thickness of the bags, meaning that for many people, their waste will have actually increased!

To add insult to injury, the policy had an immediate effect on sales of much more resource intensive bin liners, which in the first week were up by more than 50% compared to the same period last year. A large part of the debate had rested on the idea that people used plastic bags once and threw them away, and as many have pointed out, clearly this isn’t true.. This outcome was entirely predictable.

Coming to a canal near you – supermarkets are now even having to deal with the cost of increased theft of baskets and trolleys, with many looking at 5p for a bag and £1 for a trolley, and getting to the logical conclusion. For every trolley lost, the policy would need to save hundreds of bags just to stop the policy having being environmentally negative. It would be funny if it weren’t for precisely the same thing occurring nearly four years ago when the policy as first imposed in Wales.

It’s not free plastic bags which should be scrapped, it’s the policy itself…


Thomas is a director of Conservatives for Liberty. Follow him on Twitter: @Thomas_Stringer

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