The vitally important part of the plastic bag ban

I think the behaviour that governments and the lobbyists want the citizens to adopt is one whereby they turn up to the supermarket with one or more robust, reusable grocery bags but this only really works when the shopping trip is planned. What somebody is supposed to do if they pop into the supermarket to buy more than two items on the way home is anyone’s guess, unless they fancy forking out a fiver for one of those robust, reusable grocery bags. I expect what we’ll find is people taking up the habit of carrying around a small, compact bag in case they need to do some unscheduled grocery shopping at some point in the day. During the good old days of the Soviet Union, the happy citizens would routinely carry around a string bag called an avoska, which roughly translates as “perhaps bag”, on the off-chance they would stumble across a store selling something worth buying and would be able to carry it home (before swapping it with a neighbour or friend in return for something they might actually want).

For some people, particularly middle-class environmentalists, forcing the masses to adopt practices common in the Soviet Union is probably seen as progress.

Tim Newman

74 comments on “The vitally important part of the plastic bag ban

  1. Oh for crying out loud. It’s 5p. I am constantly amazed at people struggling out of shops with hands full of shopping which they’ve paid maybe £20 or £30 for but are then too tight to pay 10p for a couple of bags. FFS.

    I’m minded to ask for a separate bag for every single item I buy and then throw them away once I get to the car.

    As someone on here once noted, the environment gave us wasps so why should we give a shit about the environment?

  2. But the 5p is supposed to deter you from taking the bag.

    It’s worth calculating how much of our precious resources are wasted in the production of the plastic supermarket bag. But to save you the energy: If they’re made from petrochemicals – which many aren’t – a large weekly shop would require the equivalent of enough petrol to get the average car, from it’s parking place in the supermarket car-park, very nearly to the exit.

  3. Whilst I don’t disagree with the comments above, I am pleased that (as per Tim W’s Forbes column) this bag tax should have killed off all talk of a Tobin tax.

    As a happy side effect of the bag blogs, I also rediscovered Tim Newman’s blog, which is consistently correct about everything, and spends time to discuss cricket, and spent a very pleasant night reading back through his last couple of years of musings.

  4. I’ve got a foldable bag in my “briefcase” for carrying my lunch and a full size reusable bag in the boot of the car. The rest of the reusable bags live on top of the fridge.

    But, yes, it is only 5p. The previous “bonus loyalty points” schemes were actually a better nudge (for me, at least.) Even if that was only ½p or 1p extra. But a trivial bonus is more encouraging than a tiny fine, for some people.

  5. May just be confirmation bias, but it seems like there are fewer discarded bags floating about the streets.

  6. anon,

    The supermarket was happy to give me a bag. I was happy to take it. The government said we couldn’t do that.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s 5p or £5. Government is intervening in a private transaction that imposes no cost on the state. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about a carrier bag or who people should be allowed to fuck. Such things should be opposed.

  7. Perhaps more relevant would be the following numbers-
    Total no of plastic bags given away by supermarkets prior to charge plus nof of pedal bin liners sold.
    Same total after charge.
    Willing to bet any difference in total weight of plastic is a rounding error.

  8. Oh for crying out loud. It’s 5p.

    Not so fast: as I wrote earlier in my post:

    France banned them at the beginning of July (my local supermarket stopped providing them sometime last year, and they don’t even give you the option of buying them like you can in British supermarkets).

    So no, you can’t buy them for 5p…at least in France.

  9. For my 5p I get utility as follows. I get the bag, and I get to moan about the idiots who presume to govern us. As a bonus, it provides another example of why they are unfit to do so. Well worth 5p of anyone’s money!

  10. As a happy side effect of the bag blogs, I also rediscovered Tim Newman’s blog, which is consistently correct about everything, and spends time to discuss cricket, and spent a very pleasant night reading back through his last couple of years of musings.

    Well thanks! I am now grinning like a Cheshire cat.

  11. Government is intervening in a private transaction that imposes no cost on the state.

    So street cleaning, litter-picking and waste disposal don’t cost the state (ie the tax-payer) anything? Bag provision is a private transaction with socialised costs.

  12. 5p for a bag you can reuse a couple of times then throw away, or 10p for a bag you can reuse many time then Tesco will replace it when it breaks.

    The second option seemed like a no-brainer to me.

  13. If the bag is biodegradable the “costs” are trivial. They would still have to “clean” the street bags or no.

    I always buy at least 2 just as a “fuck you” to Camoron–or more likely his eco-freak cow of a wife.

  14. It may only be 5p, but the plastic bag gauleiters can still go fuck themselves. It’s yet another example of the rule that whenever any politician, of any party, opens his mouth, then my wallet ends up lighter.

    So street cleaning, litter-picking and waste disposal don’t cost the state (ie the tax-payer) anything? Bag provision is a private transaction with socialised costs.

    Then we would expect a commensurate saving in street cleaning costs to be deducted from our council tax. It certainly hasn’t happened here, and the bag tax has been in effect for much longer.

  15. Theophrastus,

    “So street cleaning, litter-picking and waste disposal don’t cost the state (ie the tax-payer) anything?”

    OK. Since the bag ban:-

    How many street cleaners have we fired?
    How many litter pickers have we fired?
    How many less waste collection runs?

    Because if the answer is none, the cost of bags is effectively zero.

  16. If the bag is biodegradable the “costs” are trivial.

    Depends on how quickly it bio-degrades and in what circumstances.

    They would still have to “clean” the street bags or no.

    The more litter, the more frequent the street cleaning – and so the higher the cost.

    Non-biodegradable plastic is immortal rubbish, and, as such, its use should be minimised. Carrier bags, soft drinks bottles, etc represent costs inflicted by private transactions, but the state itself plays a major role in plastic pollution by introducing food safety and H&S regulations that require so much plastic packaging.

  17. The 5p charge is a perfectly sensible incentive to not take a bag. It puts a tiny part of the external cost of plastic bags to the wider economy/environment onto the user.

    Next up: Tim Worstall rails against fuel duty, congestion charging, and so on.

    It is amazing the lengths people will go to avoid a tiny charge, so it works bloody well. And some people like to be angry about everything, so it helps them too.

  18. Nissimmersion gets it. The real question is: has the total number of plastic bags sold been reduced?
    Before, most were recycled as bin bags or dog poop bags. Now people buy their own. I doubt overall use has declined.

  19. BiW

    Because if the answer is none, the cost of bags is effectively zero.

    That doesn’t follow. Councils could create make-work to take up the slack capacity: it has been known.

    In the market town where I live, local councillors claim that street cleaning costs have reduced – particularly on market days – since the plastic bag charge. Next year’s budget for street – specifically market – cleaning should be significantly lower.

  20. Apparently re-using bags that have held food is a wonderful way of inviting food-poisoning, thus reducing the population of advanced countries, and thus truly “green”. So that’s all right.

  21. Next up: Tim Worstall rails against fuel duty, congestion charging, and so on.

    I didn’t see him railing against the plastic bag charge (although some commenters have been less than utterly appreciative. Which is normal on this blog.)

    The OP was a quote from Tim _Newman_ and was making a very specific but totally pertinent point based on his personal experience.

  22. “Then we would expect a commensurate saving in street cleaning costs to be deducted from our council tax. It certainly hasn’t happened here…”

    The bag tax is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of such a council tax reduction.

  23. Nessimmersion:
    “Willing to bet any difference in total weight of plastic is a rounding error.”

    I think you’d lose that bet. I’m not sure if your government figures are entirely to be trusted, but they say that the bag use has fallen 85 %.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/30/england-plastic-bag-usage-drops-85-per-cent-since-5p-charged-introduced

    FWIW, over here (Finland) we’ve had a mandatory pricing for single-use plastic bags for a long long time (I think 25 years or so), they cost 19 euro cents a piece, and they get recycled as garbage bags (i.e. if you carry groceries in a plastic bag to home, you then line up the kitchen garbage bucket with the bag, toss in stuff, and when full, take it to the bin to be recycled). Not a big deal.

  24. Its great.

    Its ruined ‘Big Plastic Bag’ and is a victory for the poor, or something……

  25. Anyone who thinks plastic supermarket bags weren’t biodegradable has obviously never stuffed all theirs in a drawer and one day decided to empty it out only to discover the ones at the back have turned to a pile of flaky powder.

  26. “The environment gave us wasps so why should we give a shit about the environment?”

    I read somewhere that wasps are in fact very useful in pollination etc, and its only when the worker wasps have outlived their usefulness in creating and maintaining the nest (ie towards the end of the summer) that they no longer get fed in the nest and are reduced to flying around looking for sources of sweetness to survive that they become a problem to humans. Basically human’s problems with wasps are down to underfed underemployed wasps who haven’t long to live and have no purpose left in life, so become anti-social.

  27. The Speccy had an article about wasps last week. Wasps invented paper. Quite a useful thing, really.

    Or maybe they are just part of the plan to make us prisoners in our own country, as everything else seems to be for a lot of people on here.

  28. “Basically human’s problems with wasps are down to underfed underemployed wasps who haven’t long to live and have no purpose left in life, so become anti-social.”

    Change ‘underfed’ to ‘overfed’, and that’s the UK underclass in a nutshell.

  29. “In the market town where I live, local councillors claim that street cleaning costs have reduced – particularly on market days – since the plastic bag charge. Next year’s budget for street – specifically market – cleaning should be significantly lower.”

    Do you have a link to that with numbers?

    See, I don’t believe them. The difference in time to clean up a square whether it’s really clean or quite dirty is mostly irrelevant. It’s mostly about having a guy walking around the square, picking up what’s there. If you have any level of litter, you have someone doing that job.

  30. pjt,

    That’s not the point he’s making.

    You can’t just take the 85% saving. You also have to consider what people have bought to replace what they previously reused carriers for. So, we now buy dog poop picking up bags and bin liners, where we used to use carrier bags for those jobs. You have to subtract that from the saving.

  31. (This blog is so very British- 30 plus comments debating how to best measure streetcleaning. No wonder we invented cricket)

  32. @ Jim
    That isn’t biodegradation – that is disintegration. Flakes of plastic are still platic. Biodegradation is changing from plastic into plant food (aka rotting).
    So crumbling into plastic flakes gives you the worst of both worlds – no use

  33. “The difference in time to clean up a square whether it’s really clean or quite dirty is mostly irrelevant. It’s mostly about having a guy walking around the square, picking up what’s there.”

    You couldn’t be more wrong. Each Wednesday and Saturday, there are two cleaning machines plus a truck with three or four guys on foot.

    “If you have any level of litter, you have someone doing that job”

    True; but the more litter, the more intensive the operation. And my local councillor says litter-levels have declined since the bag charge. He’s no idiot, and he owns a local engineering firm. Possibly, the bag charge has made people less likely to discard litter?

  34. I don’t see the objection. If you buy groceries unplanned, you pay 5p for a bag. Meanwhile, the charge has caused a massive reduction in plastic bag use, and the world will be a very slightly better place for it. Well done the LibDems.

  35. I’m not sure the jury has been out long enough to do a full cost benefit analysis but as someone who hates seeing litter anywhere, but most of all at sea, I’m prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt so far.

    What does worry me is that the campaigners have had a whiff of victory and have more time on their hands and their next campaigns might not be so benign.

  36. @ BiND
    Why not forestall them by launching a campaign to do something useful or ban something evil – e.g. make all chuggers wear a badge telling us how much their cut of the mug’s donation is? Or requiring HMRC to pay taxpayers for any wait on the helpline lasting five minutes or more? Or making political lobbying by “charities” illegal and cancelling their tax exemption?

  37. If the charge has stopped whales etc ingesting plastic bags to any degree at all, I support the charge.

    If it has stopped seagulls ingesting them (which it has bound to from the mess the fvckers used to cause round here), I probably oppose the charge

  38. My problem with the 5p charge is not the 5p. It’s that the 5p will be given to an environmental charity. I’ll go to some trouble to avoid giving anything at all to those misanthropic bastards.

  39. Ha ha this is a great thread, Bloke in Wiltshire and Arthur Teacake I think take the lead. And just to throw m my 5p@s worth:

    If I go on a planned shopping trip, I always take my own bag because
    1) I don’t know what charity is involved and will probably disapprove of it.
    2) the policy was thought up by the LibDems and implemented by Cameron.It is therefore by definition WRONGS !

    ps Sainsburys bags are excellent and multi-reusable, Tescos bags less so. Asda bags barely make it home,they are so flimsy. In Austria it was never an option, you always have to buy the bags at 20 Reichspfennigs.

  40. Theophrastus,

    “You couldn’t be more wrong. Each Wednesday and Saturday, there are two cleaning machines plus a truck with three or four guys on foot.”

    I didn’t mean number of guys. I meant that the people doing the litter cleaning still have to cover the same area, regardless.

    Have they reduced the number of people you see doing it?

  41. It’s that the 5p will be given to an environmental charity.

    Up here in the frozen north, ours usually goes to the local hospice. It’s the choice of the individual retailer, however. It’s just that the local hospice is a very popular choice.

  42. Have they reduced the number of people you see doing it?

    No; but that is an option for 2017/18.

    And, as I pointed out above, your point is not conclusive. Councils could use the savings to do more with the same budget, or they could squander the savings.

  43. Bloke in Wiltshire,

    I think the net effect is still much reduced amount of plastic bags handed out. People tend to take things that are free, even if not needed.

    I quite agree that giving the money to a “charity” is evil, though. Those are bastards, and I don’t understand why you English tolerate them. Here the money goes to smaller bastards, the government.

  44. Theophrastus,

    “No; but that is an option for 2017/18”

    So, plastic bags have reduced litter, but there are as many people collecting as before. So, no cost reduction? Isn’t that my point?

  45. pjt,

    “I think the net effect is still much reduced amount of plastic bags handed out. People tend to take things that are free, even if not needed.”

    Well, we don’t know. But it’s important to measure these things

    “I quite agree that giving the money to a “charity” is evil, though. Those are bastards, and I don’t understand why you English tolerate them. Here the money goes to smaller bastards, the government.”

    If people buying plastic bags has a polluting effect on the country, it should go to the country, not a cause selected by the people who bought the bags.

    I’m also very “church and state” about charities and government. I don’t think they should give to charity or write laws forcing such a thing on people. Charities are private organisations.

  46. I do carry a rolled up plastic bag in my coat pocket but that’s no good in summer.

    Actually bearing in mind British summers, most of the time it is fine.

    Carefully opened plastic wrapping around large packs of bog rolls makes for excellent free bin liner by the way.

  47. Arthur Teacake: “My problem with the 5p charge is not the 5p. It’s that the 5p will be given to an environmental charity. I’ll go to some trouble to avoid giving anything at all to those misanthropic bastards.”

    THIS!

  48. Arguing over bag requirement/taxes is one level of indirection.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s a good idea or not. It’s NONE OF THE GOVERNMENTS’ DAMN BUSINESS.

    If your government has the power to make grocery bag rules, you are fucked.

  49. @pjt
    But we are not interested in reducing the number of plastic bags are we? I though (genuinely) that we were interested in reducing the amount of plastic. No?
    So the number of _bags_ have fallen from 7bn to 0.5bn, but judging by my shopping experience at Sainsburys, the amount of plastic in the new bags is _at least_ 4 or 5 times more plastic per bag.
    So you can divide your stated benefit by 4 or 5, then (as others have pointed out before me) subtract the increased sales in pedal bin liners, dog poop pouches, etc.
    I still expect there would still be a small net benefit, but an utterly trivial benefit compared to the volume of plastic used in food containers, soft drink bottles, etc.
    And there you have your LibDems in a nutshell – state intervention in the name of trivial victories that miss the real point.

  50. “So, no cost reduction?”

    Non sequitur, as I’ve explained. Also, the budget is set for 2016/7. If there’s still less litter in early 2017, the budget for 2017/8 will be cut. So a cost reduction is in the pipeline….

  51. Gary

    As far as I’m concerned, the total volume of plastic used is not the issue, but rather the amount of plastic that ends up as litter. Free carrier bags often ended up as wind-borne litter – in trees, drainage ditches, streams, parks, streets – and this had costs to the taxpayer and to wildlife. The bag tax seems to have reduced this problem hugely – and demonstrated once again that incentives work.

  52. Theophrastus

    So the amount of plastic that ends up as litter varies with the weight of the bag? How does that work – does the bag have agency? It seems unlikely.
    The more obvious explanation is that their are a fewer number of bags in the street as litter, which plays well with the average binman’s observations. Good for him. But since each bag contains much more plastic, and the pedal bin liner is still being disposed of (albeit not in the street) the environmental impact is trivial.

  53. @Andrew C

    Wasps are useful: they pollinate plants and consume aphids.

    What I question is why did God bestow vine weevils on the earth?

    FWIW I’m against the “bag tax” and other Gov’t knows best nanny state taxes & regulations.

    P

  54. Not even convinced that there is less environmental impact from bags left outside. I’ll concede that there are less bags blowing about.
    However that is because the latest British urban ritual is to fill a small plastic bag with dog crap, then because it isn’t big enough to keep at arms length from the crap ( i.e. not a proper carrier bag) it is left festooning the branches of every tree near a path.
    So there are less bags blowing in the wind, but only because they are weighted down with poop.

  55. SJW:
    “Sainsbury’s has responded to the charge by introducing thicker, reuseable plastic bags. SFAIK the other supermarkets have not.”
    You really should get shop around more, SJW. Even Poundland offers them these days. And one thing I would say about the thicker, reusable plastic bags is that, although they cost whatever, fewer of them seem to end up wrapped around Chesterton’s fence than the old, freebie sort.

  56. Theophrastus: here in CR, which is as touchy-feely green as you like, they try to flog you cloth bags but will happily give (yes, give) you plastic bags. I use one of the local supermarket chain’s eco-bags as my general purpose tote. They last six months and then you buy another. But the plastic bags are OXO-biodegradable, which means they do genuinely end up as innocuous short-chain molecules which can be efficiently digested by environmental organisms. They disappear really quite rapidly (faster than straw, for example).

  57. I don’t see the objection.

    How dare the people not plan their lives in the way their self-styled “betters” in Washington or Westminster think they should be planned!

  58. I use these bags all the time, the 5p is well spent cos I put them in the food recycling bin to fuck it all up.

    Always brings a smile to my face.

    I don’t pay the TV tax either…..fair jolly when I think of it.

  59. Theo. What are you wittering on about with this market day rubbish obsession of yours? The cleaning of the market area is paid for by the market traders. It’s part of what the pitch charge is for. It’s not going to make the slightest difference to the rates.& if your councillor buddy is telling you otherwise he’s lying.
    Not saying that’ll come as any surprise. Conservative?

  60. @ SJW
    For the week before the charge came into force, my local Tesco was handing out a free “bag for life” to every shopper – in fact offerring one every time you shopped (I could have had half-a-dozen, ended up being talked into taking three).

  61. Does anyone know what the old plastic bags, pre charge, broke down into? They disintegrated quite readily as has been said on this thread, but was the dust eco digestible…. And how did it get into the Sargasso Sea?

  62. BiS – Market traders pay for the pitch cleaning here, not the pavements or the adjacent streets.

  63. “So the amount of plastic that ends up as litter varies with the weight of the bag? ”

    Now, where did I say that?

  64. If I buy four (or more) different vegetables and/or fruit how can the checkout chick identify them if they are not in translucent bags
    I knot them so they don’t all roll out in transit.

    PS I am old enough that I do not want to save he world anyway.

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  66. @Theophrastus
    You said “Free carrier bags often ended up as wind-borne litter” and that “The bag tax seems to have reduced this problem hugely”.

    In your formulation, a smaller proportion of bags have ended up as wind-borne litter. That’s just rubbish (boom boom!)

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