Some critics predicted chaos, confusion and “bag rage.” But while this week’s introduction of a 5 pence charge for plastic shopping bags in England did not lead to a nationwide mutiny, as some had warned, it did prove polarizing.
Environmentalists, for the most part, praised the government initiative introduced on Monday（Oct.5）, saying it would reduce pollution and waste. After all, it can take 1,000 years for a plastic bag to decompose, according to an estimate by Nick Clegg, who was deputy prime minister at the time the step was announced. Last year, major supermarkets in England handed out roughly 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags, about 140 per person, the government has estimated.
The government hopes the fee, equivalent to about 8 cents, will help reduce the cost of cleaning up garbage by 60 million pounds, or about $80 million, over the next decade.
Stores and supermarkets are being encouraged to donate the proceeds from the bag charge to charitable causes, and are expected to raise 730 million pounds for such endeavors.
But critics of the new fee say it will stoke mayhem, given the long list of exemptions; shoppers can still get a free plastic bag if they are buying pet fish; raw fish, meat or poultry; unwrapped blades (including axes, knives and razor blades); takeout food; or loose seeds and flowers. There are also worries that customers might verbally abuse supermarket cashiers, and some retailers have provided members of their staff with training on how to cope with angry shoppers.
Then there were worries that shoppers would throng the British capital’s already harried streets, clutching, for example, jars of tomato sauce. One man who didn’t want to pay for a plastic bag for a single item was seen walking down a street in North London holding a package of wrapped salmon. Yet another fear is that there will be a glut of eating at checkout counters as wily consumers try to scarf down food before paying for it.
That similar plastic-bag charges exist in the other parts of Britain — Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland — seems to not influence the critics. In Wales, use of plastic bags has dropped 79 percent since a 5 pence charge was put in effect in 2011.
The new rules in England apply to retailers with more than 250 full-time employees. Retailers that fail to properly enforce the measure can be fined up to 5,000 pounds.
Similar efforts to regulate plastic bag have been put in place across the world.
In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country to introduce a ban on thin plastic bags amid concerns that they were clogging drainage pipes and contributing to devastating flooding.
In 2008, Rwanda banned plastic bags outright, helping to solidify its image as one of the most environmentally conscious nations in East Africa.
In the United States, many communities have regulated or even prohibited the bags. Since 2007, they have been banned in nearly 100 municipalities in California, including Los Angeles. In 2014, California banned stores from giving out free plastic bags. The law was to take effect in July, but after lobbying by opponents of the bill, including the bag industry, a referendum on whether to repeal the ban is planned for November 2016.
Only a tiny fraction of plastic bags are recycled, while many end up in kitchen cupboards, floating through the air or wasting away slowly in landfills. “Plastic bags end up everywhere — stashed in cupboards, floating down canals, littering our streets or killing wildlife,” Friends of the Earth, a British environmental group, said in a statement welcoming the new measure.
However, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, an anti-tax group, said the new measure would burden families who are already struggling to get by.
只有極小部分塑膠袋被回收再利用，卻有許多最後待在廚房櫥櫃內、飄浮在空中，或在垃圾掩埋場慢慢腐爛。英國環保團體「地球之友」在歡迎這項新措施的聲明中說：「塑膠袋落得到處都是 — 藏身於櫥櫃內、飄流在運河中、散布在我們的街頭，或殺死了野生動物。」
A 2013 study by the Washington-based National Center for Policy Analysis, which champions laissez-faire economics, argued that paper and reusable bags were worse for the environment than plastic bags when it came to energy and water use, and to greenhouse gas emissions. “Every type of grocery bag incurs environmental costs,” wrote H. Sterling Burnett, the author of the study.
Whatever the arguments, the rules have inspired a mix of applause, resentment, fear and no little humor. “Can England cope with the bag charge, or will there be a bagpocalypse?” Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett asked in the British daily The Guardian. “Plastic Bags Chaos Looms,” read a headline in The Daily Mail. Chloe Metzger, a 21-year-old blogger and student, wrote on Twitter: “I understand the whole #plasticbags thing but it couldn’t be more annoying.”