Plastic bag charge

The Liberal Democrats (who are “liberal” in the same sense as the Democrats in the US: they are statist) have decided that supermarkets must be forced to charge 5p for each plastic bag. Why? They say that plastic bags have a bad environmental impact, especially on waterborne animals.

Plastic bags have a great impact on my environment. They are convenient for carrying stuff. I can put some dirty washing in a plastic bag, take it to the washing machine, put in the washing and then throw out the dirty bag. They are convenient for throwing out rubbish. They are really good for rubbish because they are not terribly large so the rubbish isn’t around for long and doesn’t stink up the house. And they are so cheap supermarkets can give them away. Plastic bags are fucking awesome.

The government is claiming plastic bags are bad for waterborne animals. I think we shouldn’t be too bothered when an animal dies, but when a person dies or is inconvenienced that is bad. (There are exceptions to the standard that it’s bad when people die. For example, if a person is committing a crime like robbery, rape or murder and is killed in self defence that’s okay.) Unlike people, animals don’t create new explanatory knowledge. As a result they don’t write novels, or music, or non-fiction. They can’t do computer programming or physics or biology or any other kind of science. So every time a person dies, you lose an opportunity to cooperate with a unique person who might help you understand something new or produce a new good. This is bad. Animals aren’t like that. Animals are complicated robots that can be useful for certain boring mechanical tasks, e.g. – being a guide dog. Some animals look cute. Some animals produce tasty food like meat or milk. However, pretty much any animal of a given species tastes about as good as any other, or looks about as good as any other, or can do some mechanical task given the same treatment. The reason for this is that all of the information required to make the animal behave, or look, or taste a certain way is instantiated in its genes. So if one animal of a given species dies it doesn’t matter much provided that the genes are available in another member of the same species. So if some waterborne animals die as a result of plastic bags that doesn’t matter much.

By contrast, charging for plastic bags is going to be a disaster for humans and treating humans badly makes the world a worse place. The plastic bag charge will waste lots of time and money. That time and money might be spent on doing interesting things and will instead be completely wasted on this stupid rule.

Worse, the charge might kill people. How so? Some commentators have said that people could use those durable bags that supermarkets sell. Suppose you use your durable bag and take home some raw chicken that leaks and as a result your bag is now covered in chicken juice. So you either have to waste your time washing it or take the risk that your durable petri dish for growing dangerous microbes won’t kill you. It seems to be the case that many people have died as a result of not washing reusable bags properly when such plastic bag charges have been implemented. (The only part of this paper I am interested in is the fact that people have died as a result of the ban. Criticisms of my position on this should be limited to criticising that particular claim.)

Well, it’s not going to be so bad you might say. People could use paper bags. Fuck that. What happens if you’re trying to carry home shopping in the rain?

And then there is Nick Clegg’s witless suggestion that the 5p from each bag could be donated to charity. The changes as a result of this stupid law are going to be expensive. People may buy less stuff because they have to pay a stupid charge for a piece of plastic so cheap the supermarket can afford to give it away. That may reduce the supermarket’s profit and will make the customer worse off since he is being forced to pay more for the bag.

Another problem: consider all of the checkout machines where shoppers scan their own shopping. Typically, those machines have a platform where you put your shopping after it has been scanned to be weighed to check you’re not nicking stuff. At the back of that platform is a dispenser where you can get plastic bags. The weighing machine doesn’t count the weight of plastic bags. At a minimum somebody will have to waste his time coming up with a new program for counting the weight of the bags. But the weighing machines might not be sensitive enough to count the weight of the bags, in which case they will have to be replaced too. And in any case, the way the bags are dispensed now will have to change and changing the machines to take account of that will cost money: redesigning the machine and coming up with a new program. There are a lot of these machines that will all have to be modified or scrapped. That’s a lot of wasted money. Either that, or the supermarkets will scrap the machines completely and go back to the standard checkout, which means that where formerly you had one member of staff for six automatic checkout machines you now have one member of staff for each checkout. That’s going to cost a lot of money.

And on top of all that Nick Clegg wants supermarkets to donate the proceeds of selling the bags to charity. Who’s going to pay for that? Supermarkets or their customers are going to pay through the nose for Clegg’s “generosity”. Fuck you, Nick Clegg.

And of course this measure will raise the costs of anybody who wants to start a new supermarket, which might help explain why major retailers support this fatuous idea. Or maybe they just think this will be good PR.

This proposal illustrates almost everything that is wrong with British politics. You have political parties who think their job is to control the minutiae of everyday life. Judging by the comments the British public and supermarkets are willing to take this abuse. And then you have the fact that this legislation values the lives of animals and the “environment” above the lives of human beings.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

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