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

Advertisements

Law requiring fencing of farm ponds

Following the tragic death of Summer Frank in a farm effluent pond, do we need legislation requiring the fencing of such ponds? (Note first that in this case there was actually a fence between the house and the ponds, it just wasn’t child-proof and the gate may have been left open.)

As soon as this girl died the media were all talking about needing a new law to stop it happening in future. And I even heard Summer’s grandfather say on TV last night that we should have a law because he doesn’t want her death to be “in vain”.

The problem with this logic is that to follow it to its conclusion would mean that for every death that was not of natural causes we would need a new law against however that person died. How many people die of unnatural causes each year? How many new laws would that be? Eventually this just gets ridiculous. And accidents will still keep happening.

Summer Frank’s death was a tragedy. Would making a new law make her death not “in vain”? Of course not. Maybe her death will influence some parents watching the news to be more careful with their own children, which could be good, but you can’t make her death “ok” through legislation. It will always be a pointless tragedy.

Would a new law have prevented this death? Probably not. It was already a condition of Mr Frank’s sharemilking contract that a fence needed to be put up (according to TV3 news). Mr Frank had agreed to live in that house without a childproof fence for now, as he had not required the fence before he moved in, nor had he put up a fence himself. It was a lower priority for both him and the farm owner than other farm work before Summer’s death, because most people don’t expect their children to drown. That is human nature. Now it is a high priority for him, but unfortunately it is too late. Mr Frank has said himself:

“I was going to fence these ponds but they were made bigger and there was piles of dirt put up around them. I wished now that I’d just done it.”

Even with a law against it, people will still willingly choose to live in situations that are not perfectly safe, because that is often practical. They will be busy with other farm work and intend to put up the fence to satisfy the legal requirement when they have time – just as in this situation. A new law would be unlikely to change things much. But it would be an extra regulatory burden for all farmers in the country, even those who have no children living in their houses.

Federated Farmers have spoken a lot of sense on this issue:

Federated Farmers president Peter Adamski said it was nigh-on impossible to fence all farm ponds.

“The cost is prohibitive,” he said.

“It’s just part of the rural environment – there is water everywhere. Water troughs, ponds, and kids just go for it.

“You have to give them their boundaries and keep an eye on them.”

As has the farm owner:

[Mr Mullan] says the focus has shifted from Summer’s death and on to who is to blame for the death.

“All they are doing is trying to blame everything else but themselves.

“The whole thing has shifted away from the little girl’s death and it’s now all about trying to make the Mullans pay.

“You ask any farmers. They will have caravans and safely fenced-in areas in their cow shed so they know where their kids are when they are milking.

“We had it for our kids. You are responsible for your own kids to keep them safe on the farm.”

You can’t expect the government to fix everything. Ultimately you must take personal responsibility for your own life. Sometimes that can be very hard to come to grips with, as in this tragic situation.

Please keep the Frank family in your prayers.

“Unfenced” pond actually fenced

The recent death of Summer Frank in a farm effluent pond is a tragedy. I do not wish to make light of that at all. However I must point out a little-known fact that most of the media has ignored (I certainly haven’t seen it on the TV news).

Mr Mullan [the farm owner] is upset that a seven-wire fence around the paddock containing the effluent pond has not been mentioned until now.

“It was human error why the kid drowned. The fence is there, the gate was open.”

He says the gate separating the pond from the house was left open most of the time and Summer and Brodie found their way to the pond.

Mr Frank’s perspective (Summer’s father):

Asked what he thought had happened to cause the tragedy, Mr Frank said “I don’t know, those kids are just so quick.

“The house is in a separate paddock from the ponds. I built the fence between the house and tanker track and ponds, a seven-wire fence with four hot wires, but it’s a dairy farm fence, the kids can get underneath.

Also note:

But it took only a couple of minutes for them to toddle nearly 200m to the pond.

So the house was nearly 200m from the effluent pond (a fact concealed by the careful angle of shots taken for TV3 news last night, which made it look like the pond was just at the end of the lawn). And they are separated by a seven-wire fence with four hot wires (ie a very good fence for a dairy farm, given that 1-2 hot wires is perfectly sufficient for dairy cows in most circumstances), and a track.

Note that although the children could get through the fence, children can get through any farm fence, even sheep netting – children can get anywhere if you take your eyes off them for a second or two. No fence is totally reliable, especially (as Mr Mullan alleges) if you leave the gate open.

Just as in Gaza, the true situation is not necessarily what the media initially portray, you need to wait for the full facts before making a judgement. And the facts emerging in this case are quite interesting.