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

Road works and the financial year

Well, it’s that time of year again. The time you try to drive anywhere and have to go through two separate sets of roadworks, where a perfectly good road has been ripped up and is being replaced to use up the funding before the financial year closes.

I like that New Zealand spends a decent amount on roading maintenance. I’ve been in Ireland, driven over the potholes, seen how the cars don’t last long because of the bad surfaces, and New Zealand roads are just a class above. Well, most of them, Ireland does have some great 120kph motorways. And my Irish supervisor did remark when over here that he didn’t like NZ roads because of all the road works…

Sometimes our road works just go over the top. There are still many gravel roads that are major thoroughfares. Diverting a fraction of the maintenance budget from ripping up good roads to sealing gravel ones would be a major boost to rural areas. And reduce the number of car crashes, save fuel, increase property values etc.

But I presume the money to fix roads is in one bag (state highway maintenance), and the money to seal gravel roads in another (local councils), and the bureaucracy won’t allow it.

So we’ll continue to waste taxpayers money.

Irish farmers want more subsidies

I am disappointed to hear that the Irish Farmers Association is calling for more subsidies – and ridiculous ones at that. The value of the pound has dropped, so as Irish farmers export a large amount of their produce to the UK, the price Irish farmers receive has dropped as well. Now the IFA is calling for Irish taxpayers to make up the difference.

So Irish farmers, who already survive on subsidies (an Irish sheep or beef farmer receives around 50% of their income from subsidies) want yet more money from the government. Money that is taken from other productive sectors of the economy.

However the rest of the economy is suffering at the moment too. No-one else can afford to pay more tax to prop up farmers. Subsidies need to reduce in these hard times, not increase.

New Zealand farmers suffer too with changing exchange rates. They tighten their belts and weather the hard times. That is the nature of any export industry. You can’t expect the government to pick up the tab whenever the market shifts.

In my dealings with the IFA I have found them to be sensible people who want the best for Irish farmers. However they appear to be so used to subsidies now that their automatic response to hardship is to get the government to fix it.

Much as I support Irish farmers, I do hope the Irish government declines this short-sighted request. The EU is already reintroducing export subsidies, which will benefit Irish farmers while damaging agriculture in the rest of the world and draining money from other sectors of the European economy. There is no need for more of this foolishness.

Hat tip: Homepaddock