In October 2015, the UK introduced a 5p tax on single use plastic carrier bags. You know, those flimsy things which will just about get your supermarket shopping home, before they fall apart? 5p is, pretty much, a nickel. Next to nothing.
The cost wasn’t the problem, but it highlighted the issue to people, and use of these bags pretty much dried up overnight.
The aim, of course, was that we should reduce our use of plastic. The law with this type of bag was, as I say, highly effective. But there is data now showing that sales of so-called bags for life has leapt. A bag for life is stronger, sturdier, and of course, uses more plastic than a single-use bag. Many supermarkets here will not discuss the numbers (presumably out of embarrassment) but others show a sharp increase. 5p is nothing, but for some people, neither is 50p for a bag for life.
So the law has only partially had the desired effect overall, but just in terms of those single-use carriers, really hit the sweet spot.
I’m kinda minded of this when I think about using taxes to try and change people’s behaviour. I’m generally quite against it, because it brings people’s income into the equation. For some people, they live on a budget so can’t really afford the extra outlay, even 10p or 20p, just on plastic bags. For others, the cost is negligible, so it doesn’t matter to them. So, a tax doesn’t hit everybody equally. But, there is no denying that it worked, just in terms of our society using fewer single-use plastic bags.
That story is interesting (well, it made me prick up my ears) because the UK is in General Election mode at the moment. Most of the progressive parties want us to fly less, just to reduce our fossil-fuel consumption.
I must admit I am part-cynical about this. Cynical is probably the wrong word. But I notice that in the UK a lot of effort is spent telling individuals that they need to tighten up, and yet subsidies for coal-fired power stations are at a high, and that our carbon dioxide emissions are increasing, despite all individuals’ efforts. So I think individuals, just individuals, are doing a pretty good job. But I, for one, am happy to take on the notion that I should fly less.
The Liberals suggested a tax, which I found quite complicated. The basic thrust was that anybody taking more than three long-haul flights per year would pay a tax. I don’t know what that tax is, might be tens, might be hundreds, might be thousands. And, I’m paraphrasing here – for a start, presumably they mean three roundtrips.
The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that, to work this out, you’d need some intelligence. A register with every flyer’s name on it, plus a count of the number of trips they have taken. Okay, all of this is do-able, but it means some new IT system. Government IT systems equal millions and years. So, yes, it is do-able, but it is a faff.
My solution? Well, the Liberals are way too complex for me. Bear in mind that we already pay a tax when we fly, it is taken when we buy the ticket. Me? I’d just set that tax at $1000. Per flight. Long haul, short haul, I’m not fussed.
And bearing in mind that my goal here is to reduce bums on seats. If $1000 didn’t work, I’d try again at $10,000. Make people really believe that their two weeks for that holiday on a beach in Greece really is the holiday of a lifetime.