Paid Plastic Bags, Is It Effective?


From one to another, nowadays there are more and more government that implement the paid-plastic-bag policy. Be it national policy, state policy, or city policy, this governmental effort to reduce the plastic bags consumption is such a breath of fresh air for the planet we live in. There are not many country in the world that already ratified this policy, but a collection of ‘small’ acts are always better than nothing at all. Now the question is, how effective are this governments’ policy actually?

Governments put a price on plastic bags consumption in order to suppress the plastic waste generated in their areas. The price that must be paid are varied from one place to another, but it should be ‘annoying enough’ to make people eventually prefer to bring their own bags.

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Surprisingly, the first country ever ratified this kind of policy is not a country with an obviously high consumption rate : it’s Bangladesh. They even go further than just putting a price on the plastic bags, they’ve banned it for good. Bangladesh became the first country in the world to ban plastic bags since they found their local drainage systems were choked by an overwhelming number of plastic bags during their 1998’s great flood. This policy first applied in the country’s capital, Dhaka, then spread to other parts of the country since 2002. 




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As for the paid-plastic-bag policy, some states in the USA have implemented this in their area since this last decade. More recently, New York’s City Council have passed a bill to add a 5-cent surcharge onto paper and plastic bags at supermarkets and shops starting from October 2016. England also put 5p charge since 2016. In Europe, countries like Spain, France, Germany, Netherland, also implemented this policy. In Asia, Indonesia has tested this policy in early 2016, but unfortunately stopped it at the end of 2016 due to the uncertainty of where the money goes. But earlier this year things get better there since their Minister of Environment and Forestry said that soon this policy will get back on track again, with a final target of a plastic-free retail nationwide in 2019.

By making plastic bags not available for free, England succeeded to reduce 85% of their plastic bag usage in a relatively short time--from 2015’s 7 billion plastics to 500 million in its first six months since charge(source : England’sDepartment for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). 7 billions plastic bags equal with approximately 61.000 tonnes of plastic, so it is arguably a significant number of reduction.

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Each year itself there are around 8 millions tonnes of plastic bags from all around the world that makes its way into the ocean and seriously threatens our marine environment. Plastics are eaten by many fishes, marine mammals, and sea birds; posing them to deadly fate.

But this delightful improvement of waste reduction then faced by one big question from the people who paid the charge : where does the charge money goes? Does it go to the company, to the government, or to someplace else? This question became one of the reason why this paid-plastic-bags policy being temporarily stopped in Indonesia. Despite its success in reducing the plastic bags usage in the country to 30% from the previous usage rate, the customers were mostly left with unclear explanation of where the money goes. The legal regulation were not exist yet (the ministerial regulation was still under examination), and it is also added with a number of local governments that issued local regulations which are not in line with the ministerial’s circular letter. This situation then led Indonesian Association of Retailers to stop the paid-plastic-bag program at their stores, until there are legal government regulation.


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From here we can see that the paid-plastic-bags policy is not just about the ‘paid plastics’ itself, it’s about more than that : what’s the exact type of plastics that should be included in the paid-plastic-bags list, what type of business that should implement this policy, what becomes the substitution of the plastic bags, etc. In England, the plastic charge only affected retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees. Smaller shops are not affected by the charge, and paper bags are still available for free. The charged plastic bags are not only applied for the in-store shopping, but also for the deliveries. There are also some exceptions for some goods, such as wrapping plastics for raw meat, fish, medicines, etc. The charge money then go to the retailers (as it is not a tax), then retailers can choose what to do with it, but obviously they’re expected to donate it for good causes.


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Some may suggests this act of legalizing paid-plastic-bags policy as inefficient or insignificant (because there are ‘better things’ to do), but as we know it every big things start from small steps. Changing consumer behavior is not easy, it takes much time and effort to make people eventually being used with the less-plastic life. Raising the charge may become one of the things that could make this policy more effective, so people will not only become ‘annoyed’ by the charge but also try as possible as they can to avoid it. But above all, people need assurance--without legal regulation, people would be more reluctant to leave their convenience and join the movement. Once the regulation is done, it’s up to us, whether to stay in the comfort zone or start the diet. The ‘effectivity’ itself not only rely on the government, but also to the people--no matter how strict the regulation is, if people don’t have the will to do that then change will not happen anytime soon.


Written by Nadia Maya Ardiani

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