Plastic bag tax

National’s resident greenie, Dr Nick Smith, is considering a tax on plastic bags because, in his personal opinion, “New Zealanders were over-using plastic shopping bags”. We’ve lived in Ireland with such a tax, so here is a brief summary of the good and the bad:

The Good:

  • Reusable bags don’t break. They are much nicer to use than disposable ones.

The Bad:

  • You use disposable plastic bags for all sorts of things – lining rubbish bins for example. When you don’t get them from the supermarket you are forever running out of them, and have to buy plastic bin liners – defeating the environmental purpose of the tax.
  • Reusable bags are bulky.
  • You often forget to take enough reusable bags with you, and have to either buy more reusable bags or disposable ones. So in practice you waste money one way or another.
  • Most reusable bags are plastic. It must take a lot of resources to make one, so you would have to replace a large number of disposables with one reusable to make it worthwhile. In practice they only have a limited life before they get lost or have something disgusting spilt through them, so you don’t actually replace as many disposables as you would expect with each reusable bag. The environmental benefit is therefore questionable.
  • The main winners are the supermarkets. They sell more reusable bags (with their own logos on). They sell plastic bin liners as people aren’t recycling disposable plastic bags as bin liners. And in Dr Smith’s plan, they might even get the plastic bag levy itself. Expect the supermarkets to support this plan, but not for environmental reasons.

So I can only think of one advantage – reusable bags are strong and good to use. There is nothing to stop you using reusable bags now for this reason, and many people already do (for example MacDoctor).

It is highly debatable whether there is any environmental benefit from this whatsoever. Plastic bags are a minute fraction of NZ’s waste (0.2% according to the Dominion Post), much of which will currently be recycled supermarket bags containing rubbish. Most of these will be replaced by new plastic bin liners if this law goes through – in other words, there will be less recycling, and plastic bags will still be about the same amount of NZ’s waste, just more expensive.

Fortunately we have a far more sensible Prime Minister:

Mr Key said there was no way he was going to support a charge that was in effect a tax going into the coffers of supermarkets. “My preference is to find a voluntary and industry-led solution,” he said.”I’ve made that very clear to the minister.”

Asked whether he would preferred to have known in advance about both issues, he replied: “I think it would be more useful if I found out about things before I read about them in the newspaper.”

Good on you Mr Key!

Other comments around the blogs:
MacDoctor: Fantastic Plastic
Madeleine: Blue is the New Green: National’s Bag Tax
Homepaddock: Bin that idea, Nick
Not PC: Nanny Nick taxes bags
Whale Oil: More on Bags

6 Responses to “Plastic bag tax”

  1. Jeremy Says:

    You’ve only dealt with that as a consumer of bags, thereby ignoring the whole point of the debate.

    Plastic bags end up in the sea and are eaten by seagulls, turtles, and fish.

    Plastic bags aren’t biodegradable and will kick around in landfill or in the sea for hundreds of years.

    Plastic is made from oil, which is a non-renewable resource and is going to be an increasingly expensive commodity in the future.

  2. Mr Dennis Says:

    “Plastic bags end up in the sea and are eaten by seagulls, turtles, and fish.”
    That is a problem with litter, not plastic bags per se. The plastic ties from bread bags are also dangerous to sea life – but not when they are landfilled appropriately, only when they are littered.

    “Plastic bags aren’t biodegradable and will kick around in landfill or in the sea for hundreds of years.”
    Sea – litter problem as stated above. Landfill – what is wrong with something not breaking down in a landfill? If you believe it is important to reduce carbon emissions, the best thing we can possibly do with oil is to turn it into non-biodegradable plastic and landfill it, thereby sequestering the carbon. If they decomposed, the carbon would be released into the atmosphere.

    “Plastic is made from oil, which is a non-renewable resource and is going to be an increasingly expensive commodity in the future.”
    As I pointed out, most reusable bags are also plastic. Paper bags can be used instead, but actually consume more resources and can cause greater damage to the environment.
    http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/?q=content/more-bags

  3. Andy Moore Says:

    hahah, Nick won’t be a happy boy…

  4. Cedric Katesby Says:

    …but not when they are landfilled appropriately, only when they are littered.

    In a perfect world, it would be nice if all the plastic waste ended up recycled or in landfills.
    However, that’s not what happens…
    Toxic: Garbage Island – Part 1

  5. Mr Dennis Says:

    All the more reason to forget about pointless taxes on plastic bags that are a tiny fraction of our waste anyway, and focus on the real issue – litter.

  6. Christopher-Peter: Maingot Says:

    New Zealand, Connecticut, New York, Toronto, or “tim buck two….The plastic bag “legislation” or “ACT” is simply another convoluted government “green plan” marketing plan, and again, it’s just putting another target on the consumer’s backs and bucks too. Does anyone truly believe that they (consumers) were getting these plastic bags from the stores (retailers) for free, before? Do you honestly feel loved by your retailers & plastic bag manufacturers? And, you don’t seriously believe “they” were giving away these before this latest “TAX GRAB ACT” right? No! You were paying for it before. The price of the plastic bag was built into the price of your steak and eggs…but now, you’ll simply be paying for it again, because your government is seeing (TAX) to it. I don’t know about others out there, but it seems to me like there is some back scratching going on here folks. If you don’t have a re-usable bag, then you should get some…plastic bags should be out-law-ed all together. Some people are rich and, don’t care about the 5 cents for a plastic bag, or the environment, for that matter!


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