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Anecdata, but since it was introduced, I've gone from getting a new bag every day (lunch/fresh groceries), to using the same one for pretty much the last 6 months.

It was a very noticeable shift to making me think about their use.

Buying one because I've forgotten is a rare, and slight annoyance (the price doesn't put me off, it just changes the mental model).




Lots of my friends have said the same thing. I've always wondered why people didn't re-use bags before the charge...

Saving the environment didn't matter, but 5p does? People didn't know plastic was bad before? They didn't care?

It's great that the 5p charge works, but do we need to have a 5p charge on every bit of plastic to drive the point home?


> do we need to have a 5p charge on every bit of plastic to drive the point home?

I'd argue "Yep". We've shown repeatedly we value convenience over the environment time and time again, I think we need to be pragmatic and, rather than guilt people into making better decisions, guide them to do it through this kind of (albeit fake) positive reinforcement - "save money by just using that thing you have".

Most people buying a loaf of Hovis and some baked beans of an evening give precisely zero sh*tes about the ecological concerns of their decisions. It'd be great if people just decided to be concerned, but I think we need to be realistic about the motivations of people, and their priorities.


It's not the 5p, it's charge vs no charge. Consider two scenarios:

1) Bags cost 1p, but now cost 10p.

2) Bags were free, but now cost 1p.

I bet that the reduction in bag use would be far greater in scenario 2 than in scenario 1. It's like why a very cheap paid app is disproportionately harder to market than a free app.


There's an example in Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational that showed this exact phenomenon.


This is literally the standard market solution for externalities, and follows the same basic logic as carbon taxes, cap-and-trade for SO2/NOx emissions, and so forth.


do we need to have a 5p charge on every bit of plastic to drive the point home?

Is this a people thing?

I observed very often that cashiers routinely gave away much too many bags for customers that didn't ask for them, maybe to look generous?

I still see in McDonalds and Burger King that they insist in putting in the shelf a lot of ketchup bags, drinking straws or paper napkings that I don't asked for or want. Simply forbidding them to do that if not requested would save a lot of trouble.


In UK Burger King charge for sauces, McDo always give a handful even when I ask for "a barbecue sauce" or "2 ketchups".

I guess for McDo the sauce costs a penny or two and they want to minimise interactions as they are costly; but theft must be too high off sauce is freely available.

For McDo it might well be a strong differentiator, customers see them as generous because of the excess sauce. Might also cause customers to make less mess under the psychology of feeling endebted when receiving a "gift".

Re plastic, a packaging company CEO stated on BBC radio (R4) this evening the expected additional cost of replacing burger packaging with fully home-compostable burger packaging was around 1p and that they had similar solutions for all fast food packaging ready to go. Financial incentives to responsible packaging solutions seem necessary at this point.


I think it also has to do with retraining social expectations to know that people are expected to reuse bags at the grocery store or wherever. At the grocery stores here in Japan, they actually charge about 2 yen for using plastic bags, but the norm is to take plastic bags anyway, so it's more like they subtract 2 yen for not taking plastic bags. When buying takeout lunch, places will bag the lunchbox faster than you can open your mouth. There needs to be a way to disrupt the "plastic bag by default" mode of thinking.


‘Internalize the externality’ beats ‘appeal to sensibility’ every damn time.


I think there may be a degree of thinking like "if this really were a problem, then the costs would be visible or pushed down to me by now", and then the 5p charge (and the routinely-forced conversation with the cashier) was finally that.


> Saving the environment didn't matter, but 5p does? People didn't know plastic was bad before? They didn't care?

i think it simply does not register, until something flips the switch. "money" is a powerful trigger. people pay special attention to what it is connected to.


One possible reason that no one's mentioned...

It isn't about the money you pay, but the money you keep.

If I buy a few things for £4.99 then without a bag I can pay with a £10 note and get a £5 note back, but with the 5p charge I receive loads of coins in change.

Plus the cognitive pain of monetary amounts like £5.04



The ideal scenario is to reward customers for being environmentally conscious as oppose to penalising those who aren't. eg. A 5p-off your shopping incentive for every re-used bag. However, sadly I don't think this would work as well currently.


A bubble tea place near me gives out glass bottles, and offers a 10% discount if you bring back the bottle for a refill. I have... quite a few bottles in my cupboard now. It doesn't work, for me, at least.

An extra charge to 'buy' the bottle would likely be a more effective incentive for me.


The convenience of cheap disposable one-time-use containers is simply too great.

The only real solution is to have this stuff made from biodegradable materials.


There is.

It's 10% of the cost of the drink.

Just seems you're not super great at personal finance, is all.


It all depends on what actions you are trying to change.

Technically, it does reward folks when they don't take a plastic bag by not charging them. But the goal is to actually discourage people from taking one in the first place, so something that seems like a small penalty does this more effectively. You notice each time you forget to bring a bag with you, unlike the rewards. And it is universal.

Sometimes you want to reward folks, though - this works with plastic and glass recycling here in Norway. I save up most of this stuff at home and take it back to the grocery store, where I get a bit of money for most plastic and aluminum beverage bottles and some glass ones (mostly beer). If there weren't a reward for bringing it back, I'd just stick these in with plastic recycling or regular trash. This adds up so long as I don't take them in one at a time, something I can't get with a reusable plastic bag discount.


Some stores did this in my area before the statewide ban, and indeed it did not work as well at reducing disposable bag use, though it was better than nothing.


In Seattle, this already happens in many (all?) grocery stores.


> Saving the environment didn't matter, but 5p does?

5p doesn't do it. 5p times hundreds does.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQuiwp3wnH0

"Right, so I can kill a turtle for five pence then?"


> Saving the environment didn't matter, but 5p does? People didn't know plastic was bad before? They didn't care?

Honestly, yes. Even if people do know that plastic is bad for the environment, they honestly don't care. I might be comparing California oranges to British apples here, so forgive me if this doesn't match your experience but here's a quick summary of what I see.

Back in 2007 San Francisco enacted the beginnings of a City-wide plastic bag ban, banning them and charging 10¢ for paper bags. First at large retailers, then to all retailers by about 2013 IIRC, I might be off a little bit on the time frame.

Here's what happened: I went from seeing plastic bags littered in the streets every day, floating around in the wind, a sight that was incredibly common since as far back as my earliest memories as a kid to not seeing one single plastic bag left on the street in the past 4 or 5 years? Can it still happen? Sure, theoretically, but as the other cities and counties around here started enacting their own ordinances, the chances of that happening were sharply reduced. Now there's a State-wide law that's largely the same.

Now I've also worked in the service industry in the past, and when it comes to disposables, people are pretty liberal about their use. A café I worked at had a refill policy that lasted the whole day if you brought back your cup, but hardly anybody would bring their cup back and we would still give them the refund anyway, but the idea was that would be one less cup+lid to reuse. We would also subtract 10¢ from the price if someone brought their own cup, but still, hardly anyone does.

Even if people were planning to eat in the café, oftentimes they would request to go orders "just in case", which meant more paper/boxes/plastic utensils/whatever. Oh and if you provide those stupid little plastic covers to close up your plastic lid and prevent spilling? Just another crappy piece of plastic. Ice cream shop or cake shop? Expect to go through a lot of wax paper, unnecessarily most of the time, along with paper cups, and either wooden or plastic spoons, not to mention those wooden stirring sticks. Or if you don't make straws readily available, then most of the time, people won't even ask for one, but if you put them right there in front of them, then suddenly you're buying a lot more straws to replace them. All of this is just one-type of business in the city. Go to another place, suddenly you're dealing with disposable chopsticks, or little plastic salsa containers, or some other crap.

This is a city that is considered 1. pretty liberal and conscientious and 2. pretty environmentally friendly, but take a walk in any neighborhood and just note the trash on the ground. Cigarette butts (which incidentally the city charges a 75¢ fee per pack of cigarettes ostensibly to recoup costs from clean up, but is really probably just a double down on sin taxes), broken bottles, any kind of chip bag, bits of sandwich wrapping paper, paper cups from coffee, you name it, it's around. Just not carry-out bags, or if you do see those, it is pretty rare compared to 10 years ago.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if you taxed/enforced an extra fee collection at the point-of-sale for all of this crap? Or just banned it all outright. It's worth thinking about because obviously people don't really care, and if they don't care here, they probably care even less elsewhere.

Either way, it'll be worth paying attention to what happens in Taiwan from here on out, and in Scotland when their plastic straw ban comes into effect.


Short-term consequences always win out over long-term ones.


> It's great that the 5p charge works, but do we need to have a 5p charge on every bit of plastic to drive the point home?

Nope, and it's a slippery slope and this kind of tax becomes regressive. It's because it works that it's used so often. Same with cigarettes and the like. Next will be soft drinks, fast food, etc, etc. Many who support these kinds of government punishments don't realize how much they associate themselves with prohibitionists and moral majority members they may criticize in other areas.


Nonsense. The reason this particular tax works is not because people can't do without the 5p, it's because every conversation with a cashier includes "would you like a 5p bag with that?". In other words, you're forced to consider it every time you buy something. That sort of repetition is powerful for changing habits.


I don't disagree with anything you wrote nor do I see how it contradicts anything I wrote. Just because it works doesn't make it right and running to the government and using the long arm of the law IMO should be reserved for egregious crimes lest it become regressive and commonplace.


So, what would be the correct course of action to prevent stuff like fish in the sea being full of plastic from happening?


This is the type of dangerous question that leads to interminable lists of laws. If there is any problem and we don't know of another solution that works as well, let's go with the one we do know. It also happens to be the easiest and we know it will work. One wonders why the same solution doesn't apply to paper that is also a serious littering problem? And it's always this same type of appeal to emotion. If you cared about the fish so much, why not just outlaw all plastics? Answer: because people only care about things as much as it doesn't affect them to solve. That's how regressive laws happen.

I could put forth a guess or two on attempts at action, but I am not familiar enough with the science to argue them wholeheartedly. But I can say the political decisions are rarely science based and more often based on perceived righteousness (which is why it's a tax and not illegal).


So... Your solution is "plastic isn't bad" as well as "whatabout paper?" and "don't mention the fish, because their cuteness makes us irrational" and "politicians are stupid"?

Color me unconvinced.


I think you misread. I didn't offer a solution. I just mentioned inconsistency and the reason why. Your reading is purposefully uncharitable and makes it impossible to have these kinds of discussions rationally.


>Your reading is purposefully uncharitable and makes it impossible to have these kinds of discussions rationally.

That's an assumption of bad faith. Now that is something that makes rational discussion impossible. You seem to see yourself as totally above the person talking with you, because you're just "rational". But you continually appeal to emotion yourself, and that emotion is fear:

"it's a slippery slope", "prohibitionists", "using the long arm of the law" (to describe a 5p charge), "regressive", "dangerous question","interminable lists of laws" etc


Solving this problem affects everyone. Not solving this problem affects everyone. This is the nature of global environmental problems. Yes, outlawing most of plastic packaging, additives etc. is probably going to happen sooner or later in some parts of the world. With China now banning imports of plastic garbage, the process has already started.

This is probably not related to plastic bags, but still interesting: 73% of deep sea fish ingested plastic https://www.rte.ie/news/2018/0219/941718-plastics/


A lot of us are doing the same. Feels great! Just don't forget to wash them once in a while, especially if they've been carrying meat (even packaged) as bacteria may grow and spread to your fresh food.


> using the same one for pretty much the last 6 months

Those are some high quality bags!




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