cigarette pack Forced support of charities through the carry bag tax. cigarette pack

For several decades I've re-used my poly bags. Nothing big deal, I hate chucking useful things so started storing them in a kitchen cupboard. That got to the stage where I had no choice other than re-use them or end up with cupboards full of the things.

That was fine before they started with the degradable ones. Instead of lasting for weeks, they only lasted for two or three trips to the shops before they ripped, or the little holes in the base became too large to hold anything. But that didn't bother me because they're far more environmentally responsible and I know they really do disintegrate if left outdoors. Even indoors they slowly lose their integrity, as I found out with some spare parts I had in the attic, after about five years the bag containing them just lifted in shreds.

It's now second nature to carry a couple of bags if I'm venturing near shops, but there are some things that can't be planned for and, in my case, it's impulse buys. Recently I passed a motorcycle clothing shop that had slashed prices for their closing down sale and had a jacket that was going for one third it's normal rate. A saving of close to £120 was a bargain I had to have, but a fully armoured motorcycle jacket's a cumbersome and heavy thing, so they gave me a very large poly bag to carry it home. I did feel guilty, until I found a use for it - as the bag I keep in the house to hold all the cardboard I generate until I take it to the garage where I keep the red box for re-cycling.

I know poly bags can be mistaken for jellyfish and turtles eat them. Same goes with many creatures that live in our oceans, however I have a soft spot for turtles and it's upsetting to see these fantastic creatures dying because of something as ordinary as a poly bag. The only thing I can do is always dispose of them responsibly.

Now I'm not going to wag fingers at fruit sellers' at the ferry quays in Thailand, Bangladesh or many other countries who sell their cut fruit in lovely little plastic bags. It keeps the contents fresh and they look very appealing when hung row upon row. From personal experience I know kids like to blow up the empty ones so they can throw them over the side of the ferry and watch them float. Nor do I expect every person, especially those with young children, to account for every poly bag or cling film they take with them for a picnic by the seaside.

I can't get my head round people who use those bag wraps at airports. Yes I know it'll protect the suitcase from surface damage, and there's no chance of the contents being scattered to the four winds. But it won't stop a cheap suitcase from getting crushed and if you've got a good one, it doesn't need any added protection. Anyway I like battered old suitcases; they're far less likely to attract any interest and I'd have a problem justifying the use of several metres of poly roll or of trying to get rid of it in a minute hotel room. But if that floats their boat then so be it. Maybe they just like having immaculate suitcases. I don't.

Nor will I suggest they place a massive tax on condoms simply because a very small minority shag on the beach or on the decks of yachts and dispose of the condom by chucking it out of sight into the sea, or any kind of water.

And let's face it when there's a flood in Bangladesh or a typhoon hits anywhere, the amount of plastic rubbish that gets carried out to sea is huge. Even here in Edinburgh when we get a reasonable winter gale it's all over the place, including those awful bin liners, sometimes dangling from phone lines, all too often with their contents inside. Yuck!

So it's about disposing of them where we come up short. And it certainly isn't just poly bags. Anything made of semi transparent plastic will cause problems for marine creatures.

Yet I draw the line with paper bags. Those are far less harmful to the environment and they're usually made out of recycled paper. Goats and camels can eat them with no ill effect. They compost well and when they get wet they turn to a mush that slugs'll eat. Then there's the carry bag that's made out of starch, usually potato starch; they're the ones that disintegrate indoors and they're fully compostable. Both types are real big in Germany (01).

Yet the Scottish government has included paper and starch bags in their carrier bag tax, because they claim the tax has been introduced to reduce the amount of litter we generate (02)! Well there's litter that hangs around for decades and there's litter that breaks down in days and actually accelerates the digestion of organic material in landfill sites, so good litter gets caught up with bad in what is another ill-conceived piece of legislation.

But it's not a tax as we know it. Sure you can't avoid it at the point of sale. If you need one you'll have to pay, but the money doesn't go to the government, it's supposed to go to Scottish charities! And they encourage us to ask retailers what charity they've decided to benefit, which I've done on several occasions. Fortunately none I've spoken to are giving to Cancer Research UK, British Lung Foundation, British Heart Foundation or Action on Smoking and Health. (Naturally any that do donate to a "charity" that supports the "war against smokers" will never see my shadow cross their threshold).

I learned from a lady at the checkout at M & S that they give 4 pence out of every 5 they collect to their charity (Marie Currie), however big operators like them still issue a fair number of poly bags - and they're all made to order with company logos and such. I suspect that'll be the industry standard, though smaller operations can deduct a lot of expenses and in some cases very little will given to charity - and that's fine by me.

And I'm encouraged that my fellow Scots have taken much the same view as myself, not because they're terribly compliant, rather they simply resent paying for anything that's billed as a tax, or levy or whatever. The headline says the number of bags being issued is down by about 80%, so in the final analysis there's not a large amount of money flooding the coffers of charities.

So it's really a way to force people to change their habits, to think in advance and to punish the dimwits who don't. On the other hand it also acts to deter spontaneity, impulse buying and takes away that convenience aspect that's an integral part of shopping.

For years it's been about nudging us but now it's about forcing and those behind this are the "Green" charities, with Friends of the Earth and the World Wide Fund for Nature being the most vocal amongst that sector.

However there are ways that retailers have found to avoid having to make donations. M & S offer "bags for life", meaning you buy one for 10p then take it back when it's no longer serviceable and they'll replace it for free (03). And they're not the only ones; many others are doing the same thing, though I'd never try carrying 16 kgs in one (04)! It's a smart move as they get you to advertise their shop and you're guaranteed to re-visit to get another free one. Neat!

It moves to England in October 2015, so do stock up on the free ones beforehand and, once it comes in, make sure you don't finance anti-smoking "charities" through Trojans!
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Smoking Scot
August 2015