By Chere Di Boscio
We’ve all been there – browsing the supermarket for veggies, only to wonder why the hell cobs of corn, bunches of bananas and even single avocados are wrapped in plastic. I mean, it must surely cost the producers more to do that, right? And the same goes for other single use plastics: straws, bags, and cutlery, for example. They’re ‘free’….but who actually pays for them?
Often it’s us – the price of seemingly free plastic – be it straws, toys, books, or fruit wrapped in plastic – is passed on to us through the price of a good. What’s more, ‘bans’ on plastic bags often just mean we have to pay a small fee for them.
But you know what? We think it’s time for businesses to do that (and more) to stop plastic waste, and British charity BusinessWaste agrees.
The true cost of a new tax doesn’t often bother businesses much: they just charge the consumer more for a product, which means the tax is ultimately regressive. A regressive tax is one that’s uniformly applied, taking a larger percentage of income from low-income earners than from high-income earners. It’s the opposite of a progressive tax, which takes a larger percentage from high-income earners. The working classes – who can least afford higher prices for basic goods – suffer the most. No wonder the ‘yellow jackets’ rioted when a carbon tax was suggested in France recently.
But a tax on plastic packaging could well manipulate the behaviour of all of us for the better. For example, instead of being priced the same as loose products, if plastic-wrapped products were more expensive (as they should be!), then fewer of us would choose to buy them. And if fewer of us choose to buy them, businesses would be given an incentive to ditch the plastic packaging.
Additionally, it could force companies to seek out alternative materials not affected by the tax – meaning firms would be forced to innovate using environmentally-friendly materials. By incentivising research and development into biodegradable materials as companies seek to avoid the prohibitive cost of plastics, this would ultimately reduce plastic pollution and the amount of waste going to landfill.
How To Stop Plastic Waste For Good
Non-biodegradable, ‘free’ plastics are worrying prevalent – from food packaging and takeaway materials to grocery bags and drinks cups and straws. Whether they like it or not, consumers are often forced to make environmentally unfriendly choices when it comes to purchasing due to the lack of other available options.
This is particularly the case for lower-income consumers, who are frequently priced out of being able to make ethical choices. To illustrate, a Guardian article recently explored how plastic-free options in grocery shopping are often (and inexplicably and illogically) more expensive, or – in the case of ‘bring your own jar’ style bulk retailers – difficult to get to without a car, meaning that consumers without a significant disposable income are often forced to choose items packed in non-biodegradable materials.
BusinessWaste.co.uk has put together a proposal that will help to shift this financial burden onto manufacturers and retailers, ensuring corporations are hit where it hurts. Mark Hall, a spokesperson for BusinessWaste, said:
“There are already measures in place which are meant to place responsibility on manufacturers and retailers – a concept called product stewardship. But these measures are clearly not working, as millions of tonnes of plastic and other non-biodegradable items are still being churned out every year.”
Hall points out that some European companies are far ahead of both the UK and America when it comes to penalising companies for using unsustainable packaging:
“The Italian and French models for product stewardship are closer to what we believe would be a more effective way of incentivising companies to place packaging and products on the market which are easier to recycle – the French model, for example, charges fees which vary depending on how easily recycled the materials used can be,” he says.
Plastic remains a huge problem around the world. It’s time that governments took action to force businesses to take their environmental responsibilities more seriously by adopting a plan like the one set out by BusinessWaste.
Do you agree? We’d love to hear your thoughts!