Plastic Bag Taxes Really Work

CC BY 2.0. Ingrid Taylar -- Not a shopping bag, but still a piece of unwanted plastic pollution in the ocean

Scientists say the number of plastic bags strewn on the ocean floor has gone down by 30% since fees were added.

It turns out, plastic bag taxes are effective. A new study has found an impressive 30 percent drop in the number of plastic bags found on the sea floor that corresponds to the time period in which several European nations introduced small fees on single-use plastic shopping bags. The bag taxes were first introduced by Ireland and Denmark in 2003, followed by a number of other countries, and finally by England in 2015. (Better late than never, I suppose.)

For the past 25 years, the researchers behind the study have been trawling the seabed in a region that stretches from Norway and Germany to northern France, and west to Ireland. They record the pollution found within each square kilometre of the ocean floor. The drop in plastic bags was seen around 2010, which was about the midpoint of charging policies coming into effect, and is believed to "show the power of such levies."

The Guardian cites Thomas Maes, lead study author and researcher at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science:

"The fewer bags we use, the fewer we can lose, the fewer we can put into the environment. 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."

It is a piece of positive, hopeful news in a subject that's usually clouded with doom, and goes to show how being proactive in our fight against single-use plastics really does make a difference. It's never too late to stop trying.

Robert Colvile of the Centre for Policy Studies, a rightwing thinktank, told the Guardian:

"When it comes to the environment in particular, pricing in external costs is better than heavy-handed regulation."

Indeed, this is the reasoning behind British MPs' call for coffee shops to start charging for disposable cups, rather than discounting reusables. Taxes hurt, both in reality and in principle, which is why people respond to them. And if environmentally destructive behaviour is not changing on its own, there's no reason why such incentives shouldn't be introduced as encouragement, particularly if the behavior is negatively affecting the state of the earth for other inhabitants, both human and non-human.