Thursday, 24 November 2016

Plastic and water-saving law strikes again!

After my post about legislation as a way to regulate the use of water, and my thoughts on the importance of bottom-up pressure in order to support effective legislative change, an instance of the success of new law implementation came to mind.

In October 2015 a new law was implemented in England.
It requires "large shops in England to charge 5p for all single-use plastic carrier bags."

Such a simple, straight-forward law, already in place in many nearby countries such as Ireland, Wales and Scotland, was viewed as a potential source of chaos and angered customers by some, but one year on, the results have been very promising.

At the end of July, figures indicated there was a drop of 85% in use of plastic bags since the previous year's law implementation, or an astonishing 6bn fewer plastic bags.
All thanks to a 5p charge.

In addition to the benefits of reduced use of plastic bags, it meant that over £29 million made from sales of bags which were sold at a 5p charge were given as donations to charities and community groups.

As an estimated and unimaginable 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans each year, this is a relatively positive start in terms of reducing waste and pollution.

This legislative action has resulted in the number of plastic bags found on beaches reduced by almost half.

This infographic shows additional data on plastic bans around the world.


The plastic charge law saved a remarkable amount of plastic from being used. But...water?

As discussed in my initial post, everything we use has a water cost.

This tax implementation, in fact, saved water twice: the virtual water from the production of additional plastic bags production, and water from being polluted with the plastic that would have been used and ended up in the sea, on beaches, on the ocean floor had the law not been put into place.

It takes 24 gallons / >109 litres of water to produce 1lb / >450g of plastic.
The plastic bag charge can be seen as a victory in terms of reducing the use of water as a positive, collateral advantage.

Within this context, change happened once people were nudged into being more careful about using plastic, with a fee...

A study showing that the charge in Wales had become even more successful after its implementation (Poortinga et. al) supports the positive outcome of what can be an example of behavioural economics, a complement paradigm of "rational-man economics" as a way of "internalising externalities through the mechanism of price" (Dietz et al., 2011 : 74)

This law worked in Wales and it's proven to work well in England too.
It is currently compulsory for large businesses only, but if the law was to be extended to cover small businesses, the benefits could evidently be even greater.

Nevertheless, plastic bags and the pollution and water cost they hold constitute a small part within the multitude of the habits we have that are harmful to our environment.

The bag charge success could be taken further, and act as equally beneficial within the context of other similarly omnipresent "convenient" single-use containers, such as coffee cups or plastic bottles.

However, calls for charge on coffee cups was recently rejected in the UK, so more work needs to be done to achieve laws which will efficiently reduce pollution.

The need to be nudged into making better choices when it comes to convenience items remains, yet the bag charge law equally remains the best example of its success.

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