The next ‘plastic bag tax’

By Drew Lindon

Another good example of slippery slope arguments in practice (we’ll be discussing them at our next event)!

In England, we had a 5p charge for plastic bags introduced in 2015, and there’s already been signs that this has had its intended effect of cutting down usage (and presumably the environmental impacts too). While there was a fair amount of argument about this change at the time, the warring sides of our public debate have cooled off.

But wait, there’s more! If ‘nudging’ public behaviour in this way has worked well, why not try this with other forms of package pollution? The BBC has reported on different types of packaging to which similar schemes could be applied, including plastic bottles, coffee cups, plastic knives and forks, and other forms of ‘excessive packaging’.

In fact, some schemes suggested could go beyond pricing models to outright bans on packaging that isn’t biodegradable. For instance, Friends of the Earth have a coffee cup petition focussing on banning non-recyclable cups, rewards for taking your own mug to a café, and forcing big coffer chains to provide recycling bins. In truth, many of these approaches have been debated prior to the plastic bag charge, but it’s fair to say that many environmental organisations see an opportunity in that scheme’s implementation and success.

And there lies some danger. Assuming you agree that there is a problem with non-biodegradable waste, where does it stop? How far is it right for government, charities and other agents to push for restrictions on these types of packaging? Would advocates of slippery slope arguments have a point about this kicking off a process of too much change, leading to unacceptable restrictions on how we chose to consume products? And what would be effective counter-arguments to that case?

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