Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

The New York Times reports today on the extraordinary impact that charging a 33c tax on plastic bags has had in Ireland. The bags are now all but gone from the country and no-one, it seems, is complaining.

Significantly, buying a plastic bag hasn’t been made illegal in Ireland. But soon after the tax came into effect some five years ago, says the article, “carrying them became socially unacceptable.”

It’s a useful illustration of the power of state fiscal policy to encourage environmentally beneficial behavior without having to go so far as banning anything. What Ireland did is arguably preferable, for example, to San Francisco’s decision to ban plastic bags outright.

The experience also points to the potential power of taxation to change environmentally-destructive behavior on a wider scale. A popular candidate tax is a universal carbon tax, as proposed by the likes of Noble prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. As the comments in reply to Stiglitz’s Guardian article suggest, though, he’s not convinced everyone and there remain enormous barriers to getting all nations and all non-state actors on board.

The plastic bag story gains poignancy, however, when read with Dominique Browning’s affecting op ed in today’s Times about a trip to see retreating glaciers in Patagonia. Here’s how she starts the piece:

“THE most striking thing about the drive out of El Calafate on the way to the Patagonian glaciers is the trash. Sheer, flimsy, white plastic bags, tens of thousands of them, are strewn across acres of land. ”

Let’s hope at the very least that people in Ireland will soon start talking to people in Argentina . . .

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