Plastic bag tax is sure to be a load of rubbish

SO often have I moaned about over-zealous Green policies in this column that regular readers probably believe I want the whole planet to self-combust in a cloud of carbon dioxide. "Not true!" I cry in my defence.

I do, however, get irritated with knee-jerk greenery - the sort that jumps to the most obvious conclusion without pausing to consider the possible downside of allegedly planet-saving initiatives.

There's an acronym well-known to junior corporate managers all across the Western world. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound, all of which should apply to any action plan or sensible strategy. What's missing from that list is "risk free", but SMARTRF doesn't make such a handy buzz word.

Take the current city-council investigation into whether or not it should impose a tax - of up to ten pence! - on plastic bags, an idea first put forward in a Bill by Lib Dem MSP Mike Pringle, an otherwise sensible man.

Leaving aside the fact that a tax is usually a small proportion of total cost and a plastic bag doesn't cost anything like ten pence, there is absolutely no chance that this scheme will rid Edinburgh of plastic waste. Indeed it has dire consequences.

A report by the Government-funded Waste Resources Action Programme has already said such a tax would create MORE rubbish. Industry sources (that's the plastic bag industry admittedly) have claimed that since Ireland imposed a levy in 2002, the country has gone on to produce five times as much plastic waste.

How can that be? Let's look at the things we buy in a supermarket. Raw meat should be wrapped in an extra plastic bag to prevent blood leaking on to other products. Depending on how quickly shoppers get home, frozen goods will saturate and fall out of paper bags. Incidentally, paper uses more energy in production than plastic bags and gives off methane when it biodegrades. But probably the most important factor is that plastic bags have many uses for which there is simply no substitute.

None of us want dog poo on our child's buggy wheels or our shoes. Wheelchair users especially are at risk of animal waste. And what do responsible dog owners use to clear up? Plastic bags. Then there are disposable nappies, waste bin liners, cat litter trays to be cleaned out and I'm sure you can come up with more.

When people don't have free supermarket plastic bags to recycle for these purposes, they simply buy disposable plastic bags instead, assuming they can afford to.

If they can't ... well, watch out for more dog poo than ever and stinking unwrapped nappies in bins.

I can assure you, dear reader, that no amount of shopping trips are enough for me to accumulate the number of plastic bags I need for a large dog and an elderly cat. I already have to buy extra and eagerly pick up any clean empty ones I find blowing in the wind.

Tax or remove free bags from supermarkets and you turn them into an even more desirable marketable commodity. Any manufacturer would be daft to ignore the opportunity. If television advertising can manage to sell us daft bits of perfumed paper to stuff in our tumble driers, think what it could do with something as useful as plastic bags!

There is a possible answer, though ... and that is for supermarkets to invest in bringing down the cost of biodegradable plastic bags - harder to come by, but they do exist.

Of course, we'd have to establish that the gases they give off as they degrade aren't more damaging to the environment than the litter the current bags create.

Meanwhile any levy is just another useless stealth tax and Mr Pringle should not think the resurrection of his Bill is in the bag.

No need to dress mutton up as lamb when it tastes so much better

THERE are many things I don't understand about the way the Government and the farming industry handle foot and mouth outbreaks.

I think all us city dwellers are a bit bamboozled, particularly by news of "culls" on perfectly healthy lambs who can't be moved to reach the markets for which they would normally be destined.

It's as if there is a mandatory age at which sheep have to be slaughtered. Admittedly they can't be described as "lamb" any more but there's a huge upswing in the demand for mutton (technically still only a couple of years old). Mutton is nicer than lamb. It has a stronger taste and needs a little more cooking but you can pay a King's ransom for it at farmers' markets, a Prince's ransom in fact because the Duchy of Cornwall is a leading mutton producer.

In the old days mutton - like boiling chickens for those who remember them - was of indeterminate age, maybe five or six. It still tasted good and it felt a lot better eating something that you knew had at least enjoyed a reasonable life span.

No medals for policy on babies

NO-ONE could fail to be moved by last week's horrifying TV documentary on the missing children of China.

The Chinese government's limitations on numbers of children and the licensing of childbirth have led to a trade in babies with some parents actually offering up their children for sale, others hiding them with extended family in the hinterland and still more facing the anguish of having their babies stolen.

Not for the first time I find myself angry that instead of international condemnation of such a regime, we turn a blind eye because they are one of the big guys, the new superpower. Not only that but we give them the kudos of hosting the Olympics. I won't be watching a minute of it.

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