Airplane Mode

In October 2015, the UK introduced a 5p tax on single use plastic carrier bags. You know, those flimsy things which will just about get your supermarket shopping home, before they fall apart? 5p is, pretty much, a nickel. Next to nothing.

The cost wasn’t the problem, but it highlighted the issue to people, and use of these bags pretty much dried up overnight.

The aim, of course, was that we should reduce our use of plastic. The law with this type of bag was, as I say, highly effective. But there is data now showing that sales of so-called bags for life has leapt. A bag for life is stronger, sturdier, and of course, uses more plastic than a single-use bag. Many supermarkets here will not discuss the numbers (presumably out of embarrassment) but others show a sharp increase. 5p is nothing, but for some people, neither is 50p for a bag for life.

So the law has only partially had the desired effect overall, but just in terms of those single-use carriers, really hit the sweet spot.

I’m kinda minded of this when I think about using taxes to try and change people’s behaviour. I’m generally quite against it, because it brings people’s income into the equation. For some people, they live on a budget so can’t really afford the extra outlay, even 10p or 20p, just on plastic bags. For others, the cost is negligible, so it doesn’t matter to them. So, a tax doesn’t hit everybody equally. But, there is no denying that it worked, just in terms of our society using fewer single-use plastic bags.

That story is interesting (well, it made me prick up my ears) because the UK is in General Election mode at the moment. Most of the progressive parties want us to fly less, just to reduce our fossil-fuel consumption.

I must admit I am part-cynical about this. Cynical is probably the wrong word. But I notice that in the UK a lot of effort is spent telling individuals that they need to tighten up, and yet subsidies for coal-fired power stations are at a high, and that our carbon dioxide emissions are increasing, despite all individuals’ efforts. So I think individuals, just individuals, are doing a pretty good job. But I, for one, am happy to take on the notion that I should fly less.

The Liberals suggested a tax, which I found quite complicated. The basic thrust was that anybody taking more than three long-haul flights per year would pay a tax. I don’t know what that tax is, might be tens, might be hundreds, might be thousands. And, I’m paraphrasing here – for a start, presumably they mean three roundtrips.

The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that, to work this out, you’d need some intelligence. A register with every flyer’s name on it, plus a count of the number of trips they have taken. Okay, all of this is do-able, but it means some new IT system. Government IT systems equal millions and years. So, yes, it is do-able, but it is a faff.

My solution? Well, the Liberals are way too complex for me. Bear in mind that we already pay a tax when we fly, it is taken when we buy the ticket. Me? I’d just set that tax at $1000. Per flight. Long haul, short haul, I’m not fussed.

And bearing in mind that my goal here is to reduce bums on seats. If $1000 didn’t work, I’d try again at $10,000. Make people really believe that their two weeks for that holiday on a beach in Greece really is the holiday of a lifetime.

See-through

Discussion with wife. For, dear reader, after all this time, they don’t count as arguments. You can’t put that in there. Nothing to do with carnal desires, but the much more mundane recycling bin.

We have two bins for recycling. One is a black box, and this came along first. We use it now for paper, glass, clothing, tins etc.

The second is a blue bin, which made an appearance later. In this we are supposed to put cardboard (no, I can’t work out the difference, either) and plastics. Only some plastics, for some can’t be recycled.

We finally have a big black bin, for general household waste.

My wife caught me putting some illegal plastic into the blue bin. You can’t put that in there.

But I do. Deliberately so. You see, the blue bin, for me, is to put plastics I should be able to recycle. Whether I can or not doesn’t really come into it.

What happens? Sending things off to landfill costs the council money. And, there must be some kind of sifting process on the way to the recycling plant, in order to separate recyclable and non-recyclable items. After all, people could put all sorts into their blue bin.

My guess is that the non-recyclable items get sent to landfill. Which costs. So, when the council see all my yoghurt pots being rejected and sent to landfill, some bright spark, sooner or later, will think, shouldn’t we be recycling yoghurt pots? It will be cheaper. So, I figure I’m doing them a favour. I’m only using my yoghurt pots as an example, by the way. I have no idea whether my local council recycles them or not already, but if they don’t, they should. And, they do go into my bin.

And, if people keep throwing away packaging which isn’t recyclable, then sooner or later, that bright spark at the coulcil might think to ask either the recycling plant, or the manufacturer, why it isn’t recyclable. So, again, I’m doing a favour.

Our general waste, incidentally, is usually just a few discrete things. The main waste is empty cat-food sachets – our pets might not be aware of the waste they produce, but I am. I can see the day when we all go back to tins, because at least a tin can be recycled. Speaking personally, feeding a cat one-handed from a tin is beyond me. You need one hand for the tin itself, and the other for some utensil to scoop the food into the dish. I have got around that problem – by using sachets! Another big thing are my empty trays of pills. Not really much choice there. But the biggest thing of all is still food packaging. Things that are wrapped individually, then wrapped again in a packet. Just wasteful!

I am kinda aware that once stuff goes into the black bin, it is a case of out of sight, out of mind. I saw a brilliant scheme in Australia which promoted transparent bin bags, so we could see exactly what we throw away. Some people would probably be shocked at what they’d see.

If we’re talking about recycling, why, you might ask, did the council not choose a green bin? Well, dear reader, that one is for our garden waste!

Bathtime

This Naomi Klein book is interesting. Yes, it is bathtime once again 😀 .

I have already decided that she’ll need another listen, after I’ve read the others. There are too many details in it, really, to convey in an audiobook.

Last time out, she was talking about a 21-year-old activist, who was given publicity at the time of the Paris talks. I forget her name, although it was mentioned in the book. Again, one for next time around. But she was a lovely human interest story, who was promptly forgotten in favour of…nothing, really.

So Greta is not the first. She’ll be hot news for maybe the next few months or year, then consigned to history. And all the while, habits don’t really change.

Today, Klein was talking about the “metadata”. Forget whether you think man-made climate change is either real or a problem, this was more of a “what if?”. And she kind-of asks the question in reverse.

If you are naturally a left-winger, you will believe that the state should apply a degree of management to the system. Sticks and carrots to make people behave as you think they ought. A recent example in the UK is the tax on single-use plastic bags, which apparently precisely achieved its goal of reduing their use, although we are now learning that sales of “bags for life” (more durable, more expensive, more plastic!) have rocketted. More fundamentally, the state builds hospitals and schools, and society pays taxes to fund them (or not, in the UK. We prefer to buy nuclear missiles.) – because the state recognised that a healthy, educated population has its advantages.

Think about climate change. If it exists, then the problem is solved by that same kind of management. So, Klein’s thinking is that a left-winger is pre-disposed to accept climate change.

By the same token, a right-winger is more inclined toward free market economics. Laissez faire. Again, pre-disposed to believe that there is no need to pull together, no need to manage things.

So, there is an assertion that your overall politics will heavily influence your view on this issue.

She talks about geography – and here the book’s north American origins come to the fore. That in areas heavily reliant on fossil fuel production, a certain percentage of people (just under half) believe that global warming is a big problem. That outside of these areas, that number almost doubles.

And demographics. That the people most likely to believe strongly (I think the word “confident” crops up), one way or the other, are middle-aged white males. Any subject you like.

So, you see, she’s stepping beyond the nitty-gritty. Not really whether you think there’s a problem, but why you come to that conclusion.

I must here declare an interest – I am a middle-aged white male! And I’m pretty opinionated, so maybe there’s something in that?