According to New Scientist, Japan is about to take a leaf out of Ireland’s book and introduce a tax on plastic bags in a bid to reduce waste and meet Kyoto targets.
This is certainly a step in the right direction. Lots of supermarkets offer discounts (typically £0.01) on your bill when you re-use your old plastic bags, and virtually all sell sturdy “bags for life”. However, this approach clearly isn’t working and there needs to be a shift in psychology. Instead of rewarding people for re-using bags (the carrot), they should be punished for not re-using them (the stick). This may seem unnecessary and overbearing in today’s positive reinforcement and choice-driven society, but when something’s not having the desired effect you have to change it.
Biodegradable bags (like the ones the Co-Op uses) are fine in their own way, but don’t address the throwaway mentality that’s brought us here. Ditto paper bags, though they are more easily recyclable. There is a hierarchy to the three Rs for a reason – we should be looking to reduce our consumption before any other measures.