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10p Plastic Bag Charge: A baby step for a big problem


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In October 2015, a 5p levy on plastic bags was introduced for all major retailers in England. Three years later, Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has outlined plans to double the charge to 10p and apply it to stores of all sizes. This is will not be implemented until 2020. Yes, you read that right.

The idea that the 10p charge is enough to make a substantial difference is symptomatic of the culture that ‘every little helps’ when it comes to combatting climate change and pollution. From meat-free Mondays to reusable coffee cups, it is easy to feel assured that one is doing enough by doing the minimum. While I would never berate someone for being proud of their KeepCup, the dire situation our planet is in means that we will need a lot more than just a 10p charge on a plastic bag in order to reverse, or at least lessen, the damage that has been already been done.

Let's cut to the chase; selling plastic bags is unnecessary. The 5p charge, implemented in 2015, has no doubt decreased our use of plastic bags – at least 85% according to multiple reports – and so I cannot undermine the effects of the charge.

The 10p charge could be seen as an addition to these positive effects, even if it’s coming far too late. However, our planet does not have time for such small baby steps. Just as with single-use coffee cups, plastic bags should either be banned or made a truly obscene price in order to become a true deterrent. I know if I had to dig deep and pay £1.50 for a bag or a single-use coffee cup, being prepared for such an occasion would be pushed to the forefront of my mind. These minimal changes are simply not enough and seem like an attempt at appeasing those concerned about the environment with a minor change. We need more. After all, the shock of enacting real environmental change will be less jarring than the shock of realising the earth is irreversibly doomed.

Image Credit: International Journal of Environmental Problems

This is also true for other environmentally-affecting factors. You can still buy a cheeseburger for 99p, despite the known detriments of beef production for the planet. Fast-fashion, as discussed by Stacey Dooley in her Fashion’s Dirty Secrets documentary, has an abhorrent effect on the planet yet is unbelievably cheap to purchase. Awareness as well as incentive must be combined to ensure that people take effective steps towards a sustainable lifestyle. It’s so easy to turn a blind eye because of low costs and minimal immediate repercussions… even if the eventual outcome will be devastating.

Despite large corporations being overwhelmingly responsible for a lot of environmental damage, it is still worth shouldering responsibility for our own actions. It may be that small acts are not enough to ensure real change, but we can change our habits to ensure we do as much as we can. Because the truth is, we can do more than just bring along an old plastic bag.

Sadly, the thought process behind the plastic bag charge is a reminder that being environmentally irresponsible is too easy. We are able to buy plastic bags for barely anything, we only lose out on 25p or so when we forget our re-usable cups, and we can still buy meat at a very low price.

Whilst I hope that the government starts to enact more legislation to combat the staggering effects of modern life on the environment, all I can say is, at least they’ve started somewhere.

To read more from The National Student on how the government needs to do more to combat climate change, click here.

Lead Image by Juan Pablo Arenas from Pexels

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