Martin Kettle: Nutso!

So Martin Kettle gets all gooey eued at the way that the Daily Mail bounced the government into action.

The Daily Mail did not invent the issue of plastic bag pollution. Paul Dacre\’s newspaper is a Johnny-come-lately to a long-established environmental cause. It is 20 years since Labour\’s Chris Smith first raised the issue in the House of Commons and six since Ireland and Bangladesh caught the world\’s attention by slapping a tax on them. You can find hundreds of speeches by ministers saying something must be done. But until the Mail\’s campaign ministers were still – there is no other word for it – dithering.

Once the Mail went into action the outcome was settled. Ten pages on Wednesday, seven more on Thursday, another four on Friday and the job was done. The Banish the Bags campaign was well planned, well focused, well judged, well timed and was executed on a scale and with a ruthlessness that would have impressed Bismarck. M&S was lined up in advance to create a second-day wave with its 5p-per-bag charge announcement. Even Prince Harry could not shove the campaign off the front page yesterday, as Gordon Brown, who now recycles his garden waste instead of his policy announcements, pledged that the government would "step in and act".

So why were Ministers dithering?

Waste advisors to the Government have today warned against a tax on plastic bags on the basis that it could have a detrimental effect on the environment.

Experts have suggested that a ban or levy on plastic bags would actually lead to much greater volumes of plastic being used because people would need more bin liners and rubbish sacks.

Research by the Government-funded Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) found that a levy on plastic bags in Ireland only made matters worse.

WRAP believes that advocates of a tax, such as the 33 London boroughs, have underestimated how many plastic bags are used currently to put out recycling or as substitutes for plastic bin bags.

A levy on plastic would also be likely to mean a switch towards paper which uses more energy in production and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, when they degrade in landfill, according to WRAP.

Liz Goodwin, WRAP’s chief executive, warned: “You have to decide which problem you are trying to deal with, litter or the volume of plastic used. We have got to remember that taxes and levies can have perverse effects – such as making people use more plastic rather than less.

“Our focus should be on reducing environmental impacts of the bags by making them lighter or out of recycled content.”

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.

So let us tiptoe through the timeline.

Greenies identify a problem, Politicians go and get some experts together and ask them to work it out: is it really a problem and if so, is the proposed solution one that will work?

Experts come back and say, well, yes, there is indeed a problem but the proposed solution will just make it worse. So the current situation is perhaps the best we can hope for. Ministers thus do nothing until the Daily Mail leaps on the bandwagon.

Ministers now act and make things worse.

And Kettle approves of this idiocy?

 

26 comments on “Martin Kettle: Nutso!

  1. It is exactly what happened in Ireland. What Kettle does not say is that import of bin liners (plastic, mind you) went up by 75 per cent. Idiotic. Apart from which, is there nothing else going on in this country that the government might like to take an interest in? Hint: education, healthcare, law and order.

  2. I bought a special bin for the kitchen that uses carrier bags instead of bin bags. It has special metal loops to hold the bag in place, and a special dispenser that stores dozens of carrier bags. It’s marvellous: I never throw away a carrier bag unless it’s full of rubbish, and I never buy bin bags.

    So who is going to compensate me for my gizmo when carrier bags are banned?

  3. Shame about the holes they insist in putting in the bottom – catches me out every time I empty the Dyson.

  4. Another reason carrier bags were introduced was to cut down on shoplifting. I know the police no longer considers that a crime to be bothered with but, I imagine, shopkeepers do.

    The truth is that everyone reuses those carrier bags at least once more while if we have to start buying rubbish bags for pet poo or whatever, that will really be single use only.

  5. I’m on the fence with this one – I want to see hard data from other countries that have banned bags before I decide.

    I find some of the comments about this on news sites hilarious though, such as “Forcing supermarkets to stop giving free bags is COMMUNISM!”. A selection of them are here: http://layscience.net/?q=node/46

  6. In the States many grocery stores accept returned bags for recycling.

    About 4 years ago I had a customer who used heated versions of the end product of the recycling (2 inch long cylinders) in bags in drain pipes in ceptic tanks (household water disposal for homes in places far from city systems). He had orders for 2 year’s production, but could not get enough of the recycled plastic to expand his production.

  7. “Forcing supermarkets to stop giving free bags is COMMUNISM!”

    It’s not gulags, but it is the same basic philosophy: individuals can’t be allowed to do things on their own and the State should decide for them (and compel them). Follow the philosophy through, a little at a time, and you do end with gulags. Quite frankly, taking babies from families to meet adoption targets is well on the way down that road to Hell.

    “I’m on the fence with this one – I want to see hard data from other countries that have banned bags before I decide.”

    So you don’t trust the Government’s advisers, WRAP? Well, their conclusions are clearly “inappropriate” because obviously Something Must Be Done, yet WRAP advised that “do nothing” was probably the best approach.

  8. Any human activity must be taxed by those who have no other way to make a living. It’s very hard to stop them. As catholicfundamentalism.com is always pointing out, there are thousands of human activities, and, one after another, they are being turned into a source of revenue. Next, we will be taxed for blinking.

  9. “we will be taxed for blinking”

    Ed Balls is going to be in trouble then. The man blinks like a strobe when he lies.

  10. Pingback: Liberty Alone » Blog Archive » Plastic bags - I may be correct.

  11. How stupid you all are. It’s just another stunt on the road to permanent re-election. Stations of the Cross, if you like.

  12. Re: Kay Tie

    “It is the same basic philosophy: individuals can’t be allowed to do things on their own and the State should decide for them (and compel them).”

    The trouble is, a lot of the time, individuals *can’t* be trusted to do stuff on their own – if they could, we wouldn’t have a shit-load of plastic rubbish clogging up the rivers/hedges/seas, etc. As for saying it’s on the road to gulags, you might as well say that any law restricting freedom for common good is the same. I’m all for liberty, but you strike me as one of those people that has a great idea for how the world could be run, if only people weren’t, well, so damned human.

    “So you don’t trust the Government’s advisers, WRAP?”
    I don’t trust anything until I can inspect the evidence to back it up. I know that pollution from plastic bags is a problem, I know that something needs to be done by someone, and I know that people on their own have failed to do it. I’m just not sure what the best policy here really is.

  13. Re: Bill Adams

    “Any human activity must be taxed by those who have no other way to make a living. It’s very hard to stop them. Next, we will be taxed for blinking.”

    Blinking doesn’t inflict a cost on the general population, unlike drinking, smoking, driving, creating pollution, etc., so it won’t be taxed, simple as. Chewing gum could easily be taxed too, to pay for cleaning it off streets. Blinking wouldn’t be. It’s also, frankly, a myth that a lot of these taxes create much revenue (see speed cameras, congestion charging, emissions charging).

    Frankly, if some parent drives little Johnny and his siblings 500 yards to school and back in an SUV, tax the fuck out of them. It’s not a stealth tax, it’s a tax on stupidity. I’m not saying I agree with it all – don’t get me started on council tax. I’m just trying to give a little balance to your statement.

    My issue is more how taxes are spent. For example, the little money that congestion charging makes goes to TfL, but they’re not exactly efficient spenders 🙁 If carrier bags are taxed, I don’t mind as long as I see the money spent tackling them and a substantial improvement in carrier bag pollution. If not, then I’ll complain…

  14. “The trouble is, a lot of the time, individuals *can’t* be trusted to do stuff on their own – if they could, we wouldn’t have a shit-load of plastic rubbish clogging up the rivers/hedges/seas, etc.”

    Err.. I don’t do those things. So why should I be punished with higher taxes to “encourage” me not to do something I don’t do anyway?

    “I don’t trust anything until I can inspect the evidence to back it up.”

    You won’t get far in this society with an attitude like that. Better hope you don’t ever want to work for the public sector..

    “Frankly, if some parent drives little Johnny and his siblings 500 yards to school and back in an SUV, tax the fuck out of them.”

    So the environmental damage from driving 500 yards twice a day is more than the damage done by a salesman driving 50,000 miles a year in a super-efficient diesel saloon then? You don’t appear to want to “tax the fuck” out of the salesman. Given the use of the words “little Johnny” am I right in thinking that your proposed taxes are nothing more than a tangible punishment when your sneering hasn’t got little Johnny’s mother to confirm to your definition of “appropriate” behaviour?

    You socialists are all the same. Hectoring bullies who try to impose an ideology on others against their will, an ideology that is more akin to fashion than any consistent logical framework. It’s why I believe in freedom: if I’m not hurting you, then fuck off and mind your own business.

  15. Re: Kay Tie

    How exactly am I a socialist? Do you call everyone who disagrees with you a socialist?

    “Err.. I don’t do those things. So why should I be punished with higher taxes to “encourage” me not to do something I don’t do anyway?”

    Because tax is a blunt instrument. You can splutter all you like – lets take congestion charging. Maybe it’s not fair to everyone, but it’s cut air pollution in London practically overnight. Big benefit, if you live there.

    “So the environmental damage from driving 500 yards twice a day is more than the damage done by a salesman driving 50,000 miles a year in a super-efficient diesel saloon then? You don’t appear to want to “tax the fuck” out of the salesman.”

    Never said I didn’t. What annoys me is anyone making unnecessary journeys across town that pollute my street. At least the salesman is doing it for a living.

    ” It’s why I believe in freedom: if I’m not hurting you, then fuck off and mind your own business.”

    You are though. Everything you do impacts somebody, somehow. You don’t live in isolation, you affect society around you, and society has a right to affect you back.

    ““I don’t trust anything until I can inspect the evidence to back it up.”

    You won’t get far in this society with an attitude like that. Better hope you don’t ever want to work for the public sector..”

    I’m a scientist. Not trusting stuff without evidence gets me very far indeed.

  16. Martin Robbins,

    “Never said I didn’t. What annoys me is anyone making unnecessary journeys across town that pollute my street. At least the salesman is doing it for a living.”

    What’s the problem? She’s more than paying for her pollution through fuel duty and tax.

    Let her decide what’s “necessary” based on that cost. If she makes a poor judgement and adds a few more miles, that’s some tax on schoolsandhospitals that you’re not having to pay.

  17. “How exactly am I a socialist? Do you call everyone who disagrees with you a socialist?”

    No, but everyone who attempts to bully me into their definition of “appropriate” behaviour is.

    “At least the salesman is doing it for a living.”

    Oh, so he’s “worthy” and the mother isn’t? How very precise of you. Would it make a difference if the salesman was selling guns? How about if the mother drinks FreeTrade coffee?

    You can’t make value statements on behalf of other people. You need set the tax to cover the external costs and let people decide their own priorities. And yes, sometimes they prefer a plastic bag, bottled water, standby on their TV, and all the other “inappropriate” things that socialists like to hector us about.

    “I’m a scientist. Not trusting stuff without evidence gets me very far indeed.”

    Doesn’t appear to stop you making arbitrary value judgements and seeking to impose them on others on a blanket basis.

  18. “Let her decide what’s “necessary” based on that cost. If she makes a poor judgement and adds a few more miles, that’s some tax on schoolsandhospitals that you’re not having to pay.”

    Even more importantly, any attempt to impose a value judgement can make things worse. The bed-ridden pensioner who has to keep the TV turned on with the sound and brightness down because Gordon judged that standby was “bad”. The Mum with a whole family who has ‘flu but who can’t buy Lemsip and paracetamol in the supermarket because Gordon judged that every suicide prevented was a priceless life saved (although I note that the 7,000 who died last year of C. difficile infections were clearly deemed close to worthless).

  19. Re: Tim Almond/Kay Tie

    “What’s the problem? She’s more than paying for her pollution through fuel duty and tax.”

    It’s not just about paying for pollution, it’s about driving people like her off the roads. Having a procession of parents driving their kids 500 yards to school when it would be healthier for the kids and everyone else if they walked is just a ridiculous situation to be in.

    ““At least the salesman is doing it for a living.”
    Oh, so he’s “worthy” and the mother isn’t? ”

    Never said that, please don’t put words in my mouth.

    “No, but everyone who attempts to bully me into their definition of “appropriate” behaviour is.”

    So someone who says you should go to prison for murder/rape/assault/robbery is a socialist now?

    “You can’t make value statements on behalf of other people. You need set the tax to cover the external costs and let people decide their own priorities.”

    Define the cost of having years cut off your life due to air pollution. It’s precisely because of externalities that the mother should be charged more than the salesman per mile – shorter journeys are less efficient per mile.

    “And yes, sometimes they prefer a plastic bag, bottled water, standby on their TV, and all the other “inappropriate” things”

    Then they are having a negative impact on others and should expect to be punished for it.

    “The bed-ridden pensioner who has to keep the TV turned on with the sound and brightness down because Gordon judged that standby was “bad”. ”

    Would love to see where you got that story from, sounds made up to me.

    “The Mum with a whole family who has ‘flu but who can’t buy Lemsip and paracetamol in the supermarket because Gordon judged that every suicide prevented was a priceless life saved”

    Not that I like him, being a Conservative myself (in spite of your vaguely pathetic attempts to brand me as some kind of socialist) but that had nothing to do with Gordon Brown, it’s been policy for years, and I don’t really see the problem if it saves lives (although I’ll admit I don’t know the relevant statistics here).

    “although I note that the 7,000 who died last year of C. difficile infections were clearly deemed close to worthless)”

    No, which is why the NHS – who’s hospitals are performing no worse on C. difficile than most other developed nations – is tackling the problem and why C. difficile infections were reduced over 7% in 2007. Again, I think the NHS is run like shit, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to make up “facts” to support my case.

    Why shouldn’t you suffer a minor bit of inconvenience for the greater good? If you’re not willing to do that, then sod off and live in a commune. It makes me laugh when people take this “isolationist” viewpoint, yet are happy to rely on society to provide their internet infrastructure, power, water, gas, sewerage, retail network, etc.

    Living in a society is about give and take. Whether you admit it or not, you reap the benefits of living in Britain. A minor bit of inconvenience like having to pay 5p for a carrier bag really isn’t the “invasion of Communism” you make it out to be.

  20. “What’s the problem? She’s more than paying for her pollution through fuel duty and tax.”

    But there’s the rub really. You say she is, some of us say she isn’t. Given that I have to breathe in the air she pollutes, who are you to tell me what payment I should accept in return? Personally I don’t believe current fuel tax remotely covers the full costs to the rest of us of driving.

    Motorists always dishonestly discuss the issue as though the only ‘costs’ to consider are those of maintaining or building roads. None of us expects to get land for housing, say, for simply the cost of building the house. Roads take up an extremely scarce resource – urban land – and who’s to say what the appropriate charge should be?

    And that’s not even beginning to cover the issue of urban pollution caused by drivers and the adverse health effects on the rest of us. Or the restrictions on our freedom of movement imposed by the presence of speeding drivers.

    The anti-shopping bag campaign, on the other hand, is a piece of Daily Mail nonsense. It makes no sense at all on so many levels. In fact my view is that its a means for people who drive to the shops to feel virtuous while not actually making any sacrifice or in fact helping the environment in any way. Its tokenism, as the WRAP report makes clear.

  21. “Motorists always dishonestly discuss the issue as though the only ‘costs’ to consider are those of maintaining or building roads.”

    We’re paying something like 4 times the cost of pollution calculated by the Stern Report.

    Something like £20 of the road tax pays for roads.

    There are costs of policing and ambulances, but unless they add up to something like 15 billion per annum, then we’re paying more than the cost.

    It’s not motorists you should be concerned with but railways that pay no subsidy and are less efficient than running coaches on the same lane.

  22. Helen (March 1) suggested other things the government might take an interest in – she missed out the people’s opinion on the Constreaty.
    As for petpoo – replace the plastic bag with a page from the above.
    Incidentally – what does Tesco do with the bags in the “recycle carrier-bags” container?

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