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Tax shopping bags before they tax us

  • Published at 09:56 am January 19th, 2018
  • Last updated at 08:25 pm January 19th, 2018
My partner and I often bring home food from a social club close to our home. They’ve recently started providing the food parcels in shopping bags made of cloth. These new bags are more durable than the paper bags they used to provide earlier. Everybody looks quite happy with the new bags. Last week, my partner discovered that we had about 20 of those bags in our home and we don’t seem to know what to do with them. She thought about it for a moment and said: “What about giving the bags to the club for re-use?” My heart leapt, as I thought that was a fantastic idea to dispose of the shopping bags that we wouldn’t be able re-use at home. With a bit of nervousness as to whether the club officials would accept them back, off she went. Contrary to our expectations, they were very happy to have them for re-use. The officials who received them didn’t seem to have any knowledge of recycling or of sustainability. Yet, they were glad to have them. When I told of this episode to the higher officials of the club, they also thought it was a great idea and would love to encourage other members to do the same. However, the picture is not as rosy as you think. If we roam the shopping centres in the corners of the country, we’ll see most of the ready-made garment shops providing bags made of cloth and hard paper. Despite having a traditional food-shopping bag with us, the grocers give us either this weird kind of jaali (netted) bags or polythene bags, and we love to receive as many bags as we can from all kinds of sellers. Here lies the concern. In our homes, the bags became an added headache: How can I re-use 20 bags? I can re-use about five to six only, but 20? They were becoming an extra hazard for our own household atmosphere. Now, imagine the impact of these millions of bags across the country. This is exactly the reason why I refuse to take any shopping bag from the fashion-wear outlets and vegetables sellers. I carry my own bag. How many jaali bags, paper bags, and polythene bags are being given away by sellers across Bangladesh every year? There’s no account for them. At the same time, no one knows where these bags are being binned and recycled.
If we start charging Tk10 to Tk20 for each shopping bag, billions of such bags would go unused
Are they being recycled at all? If not recycled, what hazards are they causing to the overall environment and the country’s soil condition? Do we have any policy and legal framework to address this issue? Are the damages caused by these bags recognised as risks to our environment? These are a few questions that we must answer, and we must address them with integrity. A few years ago, we did understand the negative impacts of polythene shopping bags and banned them from use. However, the ban doesn’t seem to be working with our lot. The polythene ban paved the way for the jaali bags to enter our lives. These jaali bags became another menace. They look ubiquitously un-smart, and they are not easily disposable. In some Asian countries, many sellers have started charging for the bags that they provide. At first, I thought it was another way of selling a product, but after a while, I found it to be a great idea to reduce the use of shopping bags among the shoppers. Shopping at a mall at Kuala Lumpur recently, I didn’t feel interested to buy a bag that would cost 5RM. The same happened in Kolkata. So, the extra charge has discouraged me from getting a bag that I may or may not need. If it were free, I would have certainly taken it. Since I couldn’t acquire the statistics on Bangladesh, I’ll cite some scenarios from other countries. According one estimate, America cuts down 14 million trees a year to supply the raw material to make paper shopping bags. Americans use about 100 billion plastic bags per year, with the average person using between 350 and 500. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic bags that the US uses every year. It takes 13% more energy to make a single paper bag than to make two plastic bags. These statistics seem quite shocking to me. If every person in New York City used one less grocery bag, it would cut waste by 5 million pounds and save $250,000 in disposal costs. Ireland was the first European country to impose a tax on plastic bags. That nation has decreased its plastic shopping bag use by 90% since 2002, cutting overall plastic bag use by 1.08 billion. Many others have followed Ireland, and were immensely benefitted. It’s also time for us to introduce taxes on shopping bags; they cannot be free any more. People don’t understand the impact of free goods. If we start charging Tk10 to Tk20 for each shopping bag, billions of such bags would go unused, and hence, taken off the market ultimately. And when we save bags, we must remember, we save trees and other precious resources that are eroding fast. Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a columnist.
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