Tag Archives: plastic bag

England’s meager 5p plastic bag tax did wonders — and it’s about to increase to 10p

Not only is the tax set to double, according to prime minister Theresa May, but it will affect everyone — not just big retailers.

In 2014, over 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags were given out to customers by major supermarkets in England. That’s around 140 bags per person, the equivalent of about 61,000 tonnes in total — and that’s just major supermarkets. The number grew year after year, and ironically, this happened despite research showing that the average English household has 40 plastic bags around the home.

In 2015, the government stepped in and implemented a meager plastic bag tax: 5p, the equivalent of $0.06. Since then, plastic bag usage has dropped by more than 80%, and the average number of bags used per year dropped from 140 in 2014 to 24 bags in 2016, and 19 bags in 2018. British shores are seeing much less plastic, and the overall levels of plastic pollution have gone down dramatically. Similar taxes are in places in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and the government estimates that by 2025, the benefits will amount to:

  • an expected overall benefit of over £780 million to the UK economy;
  • up to £730 million raised for good causes;
  • £60 million savings in litter clean-up costs;
  • carbon savings of £13 million.

But the UK government is considering taking things even further: if a 5p tax can do so much, imagine what a 10p tax can do. Okay, realistically speaking, there’s not much difference between 5p and 10p — the major difference is between 0 and something — but the measure will also bring another important change: it will affect everyone, not just major sellers.

As things currently stand, only English retailers who employ more than 250 employees are required to implement the tax. Under the new regulation, all sellers, no matter how small, will be required to charge the tax. This is already the case in Wales and Scotland.

[panel style=”panel-info” title=”What happens to the money” footer=””]In the strict economic sense, the charge is not a tax, so the money does not go to the government. Retailers are given the choice on what to do with the money, and while they can use it for their own projects, they are largely expected to give it to good causes — which they are doing.

Between April 2016 and 2017, 4.3p was donated to good causes for every 5p bag sold (86%).


Reactions to this idea have generally been positive, though environmental campaign group A Plastic Planet said it was the wrong approach. This only adds pressure on customers, instead of the producers. Founder Sian Sutherland told the BBC:

“This levy increase unfairly targets consumers while major brands continue to force plastic upon them. The government needs to shift its focus on to them if it is to become a world leader in tackling the plastic problem.”

However, this approach has proven very effective in neighboring Ireland, which is now a leader in tackling plastic pollution. Whether the measure will be implemented in the first place in England, and whether it will be successful still remains to be seen. But for now, things look promising.

Banning plastic bags: Chile becomes the first country in the Americas to opt for a ban

In what is a historic decision, Chile’s House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to pass a law that would ban the usage of plastic bags in all types of shops across the entire territory. This would make Chile the first country in the Americas to take this measure.

Plastic is one of the biggest problems in the modern world — no matter where you go, there’s just too much of it around, and it’s often ending up in unwanted places like in the oceans, where it can cause dramatic environmental damage. The good news is that efforts to fight plastic pollution are working.

Among these efforts, firm measures such as taxation or bans seem to be both necessary and very effective. Even modest taxes of a few cents applied in the UK have slashed plastic bag consumption by more than 85%. Meanwhile, other European countries like Italy have opted for a complete ban. Some African countries have also banned plastic bags, but across the ocean, in America, things have moved slower. Despite some statewide bans in places like Hawaii or California, national measures have been few and far between.

This is why Chile’s initiative is even more laudable. The bill will come into force in a year’s time for big retailers and in two years’ time for smaller businesses. Garbage bags are not included.

It all started last year, when former president Michelle Bachelet announced a bill to ban plastic bags in all coastal areas.

“We are going to present a bill that will ban the usage of plastic bags in coastal cities within the next 12 months”, Bachelet said in New York City, in September.

The bill was embraced by the new administration, and president Sebastián Piñera pushed to expand the measure to all the population. Piñera himself took to Twitter to say that “we have taken a fundamental step to take better care of Chile and the planet. Today we are more prepared to leave a better planet to our children, grandchildren and the generations to come”.

According to data provided by the Association of Plastic Manufacturers (Asiplas in Spanish), Chile uses more than 3.4 billion plastic bags a year, which translates to almost 200 bags per person annually.

Again, despite remarkable city or statewide initiatives, no country on North or South America has banned plastic bags. Currently, the only other country in the Americas that has announced similar plans is Costa Rica, who plans to pass the ban by 2021.

Plastics are ubiquitous in the deep ocean — even in the Mariana Trench

If you thought that going to the deepest point on the planet, the Mariana Trench, is far enough to get away from plastics, you’re wrong. At 36,000 feet (11 kilometers) beneath the ocean surface, scientists found a plastic bag. That’s right: a plastic bag, like they give away at grocery stores, now lies on the deepest point on Earth.

Plastics are ubiquitous in even the deepest points of the ocean, a new study reveals. The study reports plastic debris pollution in the deep-sea based on the information from a recently developed database, launched by the Global Oceanographic Data Center (GODAC) of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).

While scientists have known about the Mariana Trench bag for a while now, this is the most accurate quantification of deep-ocean plastic — and it paints a pretty discouraging picture: our oceans are riddled with plastic, from the surface to the very depths.

The vast majority of the plastic (89%) was single-use — the kind of disposable plastic you use once and then throw away. Single-use plastics have become widespread in most parts of the world because they’re so cheap and useful, resulting in a huge problem.

The problem with plastic is that it doesn’t really decompose — it simply breaks off into smaller and smaller pieces, accumulating in the oceans.

“This study shows that plastic debris, particularly single-use products, has reached the deepest parts of the ocean,” researchers write in the study. “Whereas regulation on the production of single-use plastic and the flow of such debris into the coast are the only effective ways to prevent further threats to deep-sea ecosystems, successful management of plastic waste is possible through internationally harmonized practices based on scientifically sound knowledge”

Plastic pollution is already one of the most serious threats to ocean ecosystems. Previous studies have found that there are trillions of plastic pieces in oceans, and the ocean sediments are already a plastic cemetery. Plastic pollution threatens wildlife in a number of ways. First, through ingestion —  we’ve seen many times the dramatic effects ingested plastic can have on unfortunate creatures. Microplastic can even be ingested by zooplankton and then transferred up the food chain, including to some species of economic importance, which means that ultimately, we humans may be ingesting the plastic ourselves. Lastly, toxic chemicals released from fragmented plastic can severely impact the biological function of marine organisms, as studies have already shown.

To be perfectly honest, things aren’t looking very good, but there is a silver lining: efforts to fight plastic pollution are working, even though the process is slow and tedious. Even something as small as a five pence tax per plastic bag can make a massive difference, and several states are already implementing full-scale bans. Of course, all of us can make a difference by just saying no to plastic — especially to single-use plastic.

Journal Reference: Chiba et al. “Human footprint in the abyss: 30 year records of deep-sea plastic debris.” https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2018.03.022

Plastic sandwich baggy floating in the water column. Fish that feed on various salps, jelly-fish, etc. mistake such trash for food and can ingest this with fatal consequences. Credit: Ben Mierement, NOAA NOS.

Efforts to fight plastic pollution are working: Fewer plastic bags found around UK waters

British scientists have fished out all sorts of plastic debris from waters surrounding the UK, then compared the type and number of polluting items to records from up to 25 years ago. The analysis found a decline in certain types of plastic pollution, suggesting that local measures like taxing supermarket carry bags are working. However, there is still much to go.

Plastic sandwich baggy floating in the water column. Fish that feed on various salps, jelly-fish, etc. mistake such trash for food and can ingest this with fatal consequences. Credit: Ben Mierement, NOAA NOS.

Plastic sandwich baggy floating in the water column. Fish that feed on various salps, jellyfish, etc. mistake such trash for food and can ingest this with fatal consequences. Credit: Ben Mierement, NOAA NOS.

Previously, the British government has implemented all sorts of measures aimed at curbing plastic waste, such as charging for plastic carrier bags or bottle deposit schemes — and these seem to work. One recent survey found that the supermarket carrier bag charge led to an 80% decrease in their use throughout England. Now, researchers at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) have confirmed the trend — this time, on the seafloor around English waters.

“It is encouraging to see that efforts by all of society, whether the public, industry, NGOs or government to reduce plastic bags are having an effect,” said Dr. Thomas Maes, a marine litter scientist at Cefas and the report’s lead author.

“We observed sharp declines in the percentage of plastic bags as captured by fishing nets trawling the seafloor around the UK compared to 2010 and this research suggests that by working together we can reduce, reuse and recycle to tackle the marine litter problem.”

The findings were based on records of 2,500 ocean trawls conducted by ships between 1992 and 2017. On average, over the 25-year period, 60% of a trawl’s contents was plastic.

The researchers observed a 30% decline in carrier bags in the trawls since charges were introduced. However, the overall amount of deep-sea litter has remained roughly constant due to an increase in the number of other plastic items, including bottles and fishing debris. But, overall, the findings presented in the journal Science of the Total Environment represent some good news — finally!

The government is now considering implementing a charge on disposable coffee cups, as recommended by the Environmental Audit Committee. In fact, any kind of disposable plastic should be charged, by this reasoning — from straws to cutlery and wrapping.

Currently, carry bags are taxed with 5p (¢7) in the UK, which led to 9 million fewer plastic bags in circulation since the levy was introduced. Mary Creagh, who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee, recommends the government add a 25p (¢35) ‘latte levy’ to curb the ‘mountain of coffee cup waste.’

The rest of the world ought to follow this example too, if we’re to avoid turning the oceans into circulating litter bins. By one estimate, the amount of plastic trash in the ocean could triple within a decade if current trends continue unabated.  According to a 2014 study, there are at least 5.25 trillion pieces of trash which weigh an estimated 269,000 tonnes. The real number, however, might even be much larger than that.

“The fewer bags we use, the fewer we can lose, the fewer we can put into the environment,” Thomas Maes, the paper’s lead author, told The Guardian. “If we all work together towards a better environment, we can make changes. A lot of people live in doom, but … don’t give up yet.”

California becomes the first US state to ban plastic bags

California confirms its status as a leader in American sustainability, becoming the first US state ever to ban plastic bags.

Image credits: katerha/Flickr.

A silent battle was being fought in California. Eclipsed by the much noisier national elections and by international climate talks, the Plastic Bag Veto Referendum went largely unnoticed, at least by outsiders. The measure was first proposed more than a year ago but was put on hold as California’s secretary of state’s office announced that a referendum to overturn the measure will be held. The referendum was decided after a trade group, the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) submitted over 500,000 signatures. According to California’s law, a referendum must be held if this happens.

“It’s outrageous that California legislators voted to kill California jobs just to line the pockets of big grocers and their labor union supporters,” the APBA said back then. “But the APBA is proud to defend these workers and we remain confident California voters will reject the bag ban scam at the ballot box in November 2016.”

Well, despite a $6 million campaign waged by the APBA and other out-of-state plastic bag industry, California’s voters still wanted to ban plastic bags – though narrowly, with 51.97% in favor to 48.03% opposed. The plastic bag industry wanted to protect its profits and invested heavily into the campaign, but it simply wasn’t enough.

“California voters have taken a stand against a deceptive, multi-million dollar campaign by out-of-state plastic bag makers,” said Californians Against Waste (CAW) campaign co-chair, Mark Murray. “This is a significant environmental victory that will mean an immediate elimination of the 25 million plastic bags that are polluted in California every day, threatening wildlife.”

California isn’t the only place in the US where plastic bags aren’t allowed. In 2015, Hawaii entered into a de facto ban on non-biodegradable bags because all of its counties banned the bags – though the measure wasn’t technically implemented state-wide while Washington, D.C., prohibited non-recyclable plastic carryout bags in 2009. Numerous other US cities and municipalities also outlawed the use of plastic bags, but a nation-wide ban still seems far away.

In many countries of the world, there has been a phase-out of lightweight plastic bags. Single-use plastic shopping bags were traditionally given to customers, but national and subnational governments are taking measures to stop plastic waste and are targeting these bans. Among others, Morocco, Italy, Bangladesh and the Netherlands have banned plastic bags. Meanwhile, countries like Germany, China, and the UK have implemented taxes on plastic bags, which also helps to reduce consumption, though not totally. A mere 5 pence tax in the UK has led plastic bag usage to plummet by 70-80%. Every year, in the UK alone, this small tax keeps billions of plastic bags from being used. Reducing emissions does little for us if we don’t also ensure a more efficient way to use materials – and reducing plastic waste is a key component of a sustainable future.

Meager 5p bag tax slashes usage by 80%

When the Scottish government introduced a 5 pence tax for plastic bags, they were expecting a significant reduction, but even they weren’t expecting such a big success. In the year that has passed since then, number of plastic bags handed out in stores was slashed by 80% – that’s 650 million less bags! This also translates into a net saving of more than 4,000 tonnes of plastic and a reduction of 2,500 tonnes of CO2 annually.

Image via BBC.

The system goes like this: plastic carriers used to be free in the entire UK. A year ago, Scotland introduced a meager 5p tax for these bags. The money goes to charity, and not only has this move almost eliminated plastic bags, but it also raised about £6.7m for good causes in the past 12 months ($10 million). Scotland’s Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead hailed the 5p charge a “major success”, and thanked Scotland for “embracing the policy”. He then added:

“Previously, statistics showed that people in Scotland used more than 800 million new single-use carrier bags every single year – more per head than anywhere else in the UK. It’s now becoming second nature to shoppers to reuse their carrier bags and hopefully to think more about our impact on the environment.”

To make things even better, England and Wales also recently implemented this policy. It will be interesting to see how this fares there.

A word on plastic and reusable bags

A while ago, I was telling you about the big garbage island in the middle of the Pacific ocean, and why you should use and reuse canvas bags instead of going for the plastic bags. But here are some quick facts about reusing bags.

reusable bag

An average reusable bag requires the same amount of energy as an estimated 28 traditional plastic shopping bags or eight paper bags. Most people don’t reuse paper bags, and even if you can, there’s only so many times you can do that before it breaks or gets wet, but if you take a canvas bag and use it less than 28 times – you’re actually doing more harm than good. However, according to an unofficial research by the Wall Street Journal, only 10% of bags are actually being reused.

Also, reusable bags get a lot of bad rep because people claim they are dirty. There was (and still is) a lot of fuss around a 2010 study conducted by University of Arizona and Limo Loma University which concluded that “Reusable grocery bags can be a breeding ground for dangerous foodborne bacteria and pose a serious risk to public health” [if people don’t wash them]. However, the study was highly criticized, calling into question the small sample size of bags examined in the study and the questionable danger of the type and amount of bacteria found. Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumers Union explained the situation pretty well:

“A person eating an average bag of salad greens gets more exposure to these bacteria than if they had licked the insides of the dirtiest bag from this study.” But Hansen notes that there are some reminders to take away from the study. It’s easy to spread bacteria from meat, fish, or poultry to other foods – in your kitchen or in your grocery bags. So he does think it’s wise to carry those items in disposable bags. Reusable bags are fine for most everything else, but it’s a good idea to wash them occasionally.”

So there you have it people – don’t be a hypocrite, don’t be a “green hipster” – buying reusable bags and not reusing them isn’t doing any good. Use them, wash them once in a while, recycle them when you can’t really use them any more, and spread the word.

Hawaii becomes first US state to ban plastic bags – sets a remarkable example

The Governor of the Honolulu county signed the law passed by the local council, banning plastic bags altogether – thus making Hawaii the first state ever to do so.

There are four counties in Hawaii – and all of them set a great example together; the thing is, this was not done by state legislature, but instead, each of the four counties voting the same thing, showing just how big an impact local activism can have.

The City and County of Honolulu was the last county to ban plastic bags, after Maui and Kauai counties already have plastic bag bans in place while Hawaii County passed an ordinance that will take effect next year – and it’s already made a difference. In Maui, the amount of plastic trash blowing around in the almost constant Trade Winds in the area near the main landfill has drastically decreased.

Of course, the usage of reusable bags has risen significantly, but the bad thing is that so has the usage of paper bags. Still, let us enjoy this victory and fine example, and spread the word to bring reusable bags when in Hawaii; hopefully, in time, education will allow even more improvements, and in the end, we will be using almost entirely reusable bags. The city of Seattle has also banned plastic bags, and so have Congo and Italy.

Via Ecowatch