Plastic-Free Ambassador Ben Fogle believes Chancellor Philip Hammond should provide a positive incentive for supermarkets to take strong action against plastic pollution.
This week the Chancellor will use his Budget to launch a consultation for a tax on single-use plastic packaging. It’s refreshing to see the Government formally recognise that something must be done to tackle the plastic scourge that has plagued the planet for decades. Philip Hammond should be commended for being bold enough to consider a ground-breaking intervention. But I’m not convinced punitive taxation is the way to drive real change.
History tells us that you change behaviour by providing a positive alternative to the status quo, not by introducing piecemeal tax measures.
Tobacco is a perfect example. The biggest factor in the massive reduction in smoking in the UK over the past 15 years has been the introduction of smoke-free public places in 2007. When people experienced the positive experience that a smoke-free environment created, it made perfect sense for hundreds of thousands of smokers to kick the habit.
Britain has some of the highest alcohol taxes in Europe yet we remain world-class performers when it comes to binge drinking
Following the ban’s introduction there was almost a 25 per cent increase in attempts to quit made via NHS stop-smoking services. An extra 300,000 people are thought to have tried to give up cigarettes immediately following the ban, as a result of smoke-free legislation.
The introduction of the smoking ban was a huge news event and forced everyone to invest in a positive future without smoke. It did more for tobacco control than incremental duty rises ever could have. So there is a real concern that a small tax on throwaway plastic packaging would be absorbed by the consumer who will not be sufficiently motivated to change their consumption habits.
Similarly Britain has some of the highest alcohol taxes in Europe yet we remain world-class performers when it comes to binge drinking. The UK currently pays the highest rate of beer duty in Europe at 52.2p per pint. This is more than 13 times as much as the duty rate in Germany or Spain. Despite this, Britain is among the 15 worst countries in the world for binge drinking.
So sadly taxation may not be the silver bullet that we all crave. The Chancellor must think more radically if we are to end the lunacy of throwaway plastic packaging.
A plastic-free aisle is part of the positive vision of the future that consumers are desperate to realise
This year I have joined calls for a plastic-free aisle in supermarkets because it’s clear that the UK’s shops have to be part of the solution. The brainchild of campaign group A Plastic Planet, a plastic-free aisle is part of the positive vision of the future that consumers are desperate to realise. An aisle stocking exclusively goods that are free from plastic packaging would help the nation’s shoppers envision a realisable future untainted by the worst excesses of mankind’s decades-long addiction to plastic.
A single-use plastic tax may raise extra revenue for the Treasury and generate some headlines, but is unlikely to drive a lasting shift away from single-use plastic pollution. Instead the Chancellor should consider introducing a national business rate relief scheme for retailers who do the right thing. This means giving a financial incentive for UK supermarkets to introduce a plastic-free aisle.
The time for change is now. The Chancellor must act decisively to provide a real incentive for retailers and consumers to confine single-use plastic to history.