Recycling isn’t going to save the planet – we need to get tough and punish people for using plastic

For that we are going to need greater financial incentives and penalties

The nudge worked then. We now use 93 percent fewer plastic bags than we did before the introduction of the 5p carrier bag levy went nationwide in 2015 (Wales pioneered the levy in 2011). When the levy goes up to 10p next year it will further curtail their use, and as such the waste of precious hydrocarbons and the obscene environmental damage sometimes across oceans in otherwise pristine marine environments, choking turtles and all the rest of it

According to the government, on a 10-year view the carrier bag levy – which is not a tax – will mean an expected overall benefit of over £780m to the UK economy; up to £730m raised for good causes; £60m savings in litter clean-up costs and a carbon saving of £13m. Some 4p of every 5p you spend on a bag goes to a “good cause”. It goes to show, by the way, how simple insights from behavioural economics can leverage big societal changes – the levy being effectively financially invisible to almost everyone.

All good news.

Well, we can do much more, such as introducing pilot levies on disposable coffee cups (with a suitable exemption for smaller cafes, obviously), on plastic straws and various other bits of our plastic fanatic lifestyle. I believe the civil servants at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found the whole thing so perplexing they’ve not been able to work out a suitable scheme. As Boris Johnson might say, if we could put three men on the moon in 1969, we can surely find a way to put a price on plastic straws. We can also do much more for food recycling – supplanting the food banks with fresher, healthier produce. Maybe Theresa Villiers will have more luck than Michael Gove had.

Indeed, we could go for a generalised plastics tax – a small deterrent levy on the absurd amounts of plastic and other packaging that we cosset so much of our fresh food in. If your food is wrapped in any kind of plastic it will be, say, 10p more expensive than if it is loose or in a paper bag or a compostable organic bag.

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