Plastic bottles

That 5p charge on plastic bags may have actually worked

Bless our cheapskate souls.

Are the days of Sainsbury's bags masquerading as jellyfish over? Scientists have found an estimated 30 per cent drop in the number of plastic bags in the seas around Britain.

What it means: A few months ago, new rules came in saying UK shops had to charge people 5p for a plastic bag (a regulation that exists in quite a few other European countries too). As low a price as this is, it may have done its job at disincentivising people from using so much plastic.

The idea behind the charge is to make people think twice about whether or not they need a bag, and to get us into the habit of bringing our own. Economists (particularly the ones specialising in what's called 'behavioural economics' believe that putting a charge on 'bad' behaviour, rather than a discount on good behaviour, is more effective. Humans are way more averse to losing 5p, than they are excited about gaining 5p (which is why the whole thing was marketed as a 5p charge for a bag, rather than a 5p discount for bringing your own). They call it 'loss aversion'.

The lead scientist put it like this: “The fewer bags we use, the fewer we can lose, the fewer we can put into the environment." In other words, yay for our cheapskate souls.

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