10 November 2015

Lost in Tesco: 1 Carrot

So now we have the shopping tax, where if you want to carry your purchases home, no matter how expensive or fragile they are, you are obliged to give the retailer an extra five pence per bag.

I understand the rationale behind it: some people are extraordinarily profligate with their use of bags, and wastefulness is not something that should be encouraged.

However, whilst the concept works in places like supermarkets where most people arrive by car, buy multiple items that require bags but can easily bring multiple empty bags with them, it doesn't work so well elsewhere.

Where do you carry an empty bag? In your pocket? With your phone, wallet and house keys? Well yes, if there's room (is that an environmentally-friendly reusable bag in your pocket or shall we do a very old joke?), but personally I don't have room in my pockets for multiple bags on the off chance that I might decide to buy something - and certainly not thick plastic or fabric reusable ones.

For people bemoaning the death of the high street, introducing an extra charge is not going to encourage people to make impulse purchases. On several occasions after Marks & Spencer started charging for carrier bags I almost shopped there a few times, even getting to the till, before remembering that I'd have to pay extra if I wanted to take my shopping home (much like Ryanair's extra charges if you want to actually travel on one of its planes despite holding a ticket) so left without buying anything. I stopped shopping there and either went elsewhere, or waited until I was going somewhere in the car and could use my reusable bags.

Online shopping is going to benefit hugely from this as packaging for delivery by post is exempt, although it's worth noting that the supermarkets are cashing in on the extra charge by insisting on using (and charging for) bags for your online home-delivery shopping. I guess the attraction of being able to charge an extra five pence per bag is too much for them to resist, and they'll go down the one-item-per-bag route to maximise their income from it as you have no control over how many bags they charge you for.

And yes, I know the proceeds of the shopping tax are supposed to go to good causes, whatever they might be, but retailers are allowed to deduct reasonable expenses from the income received.

The other absurdity is when purchasing high-value items. Remember it's not just your weekly grocery shop that's affected. Your new £620 mobile phone is now £620.05. Yes, it's a mere drop in the ocean in terms of the overall price, but it seems unbelievably churlish to add that five pence.

Or clothes shopping: that expensive new suit or dress, jeans, T-shirts or items of 'intimate apparel' as our US friends coyly refer to them as, will all cost an extra five pence if you want a bag to carry them home in. Online shopping (with a mandatory 14-day returns period and often free delivery) is your friend as wrappings for postage are exempt from the charge.

Now don't get me wrong: I abhor wastefulness and, whilst I don't consider myself to be particularly 'green', think that reducing,  reusing and recycling where possible is eminently sensible. My recycling bin is usually full each fortnight whereas my non-recycling bin must feel somewhat deprived. My lights are mostly LED, and get turned off when I'm not in the room, and for local journeys I tend to walk instead of using the car.

Something which has gone mostly unreported is that where retailers used to offer a carrot to encourage you to bring your own bag, for example Tesco offered 'green' Clubcard points, these have been withdrawn and now we are being 'encouraged' with a stick. The beatings will continue until morale improves.

The question is, will a 5p per bag charge stop the thoughtless from fly tipping rubbish in the countryside? Probably not. Will 5p per bag change the world? Certainly not. Does the 5p per bag make it look like the government is 'doing something' about something? Unfortunately, yes.

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