Want to Curb Litter? Tax the Bag

Jul 21, 2010

Want to Curb Litter? Tax the Bag
RFF Feature
July 21, 2010

Want to Curb Litter? Tax the BagIn 2005, Botswana joined countries like Denmark, Italy, South Africa, and Ireland in regulating the design and use of plastic bags – emulating many countries and municipalities that have taken measures to cut the environmental eyesore of plastic bag litter.

The legislation set a minimum manufacturing standard, punishment for those who did not follow those standards and forced retailers to be transparent when determining the costs of plastic shopping bags. In 2007, Botswana imposed a tax on each bag used.

In a new Environment for Development discussion paper, Behavioral Response to Plastic Bag Legislation in Botswana, authors Johane Dikgang and Martine Visser analyze the success of the legislation and conclude—at least in the short-term—that the bag policies are working.

During the 18 months after the legislation was passed, plastic bag consumption fell by 50 percent when compared to pre-tax consumption.

“The partial success of the Botswana levy was due to the constant high prices of the plastic bags,” Dikgang and Visser write. “Even after the initial significant decline in consumption, prices of bags continued to increase.”

Compared to other countries with similar legislation, Dikgang and Visser believe Botswana will continue to see positive results.

“Unlike South Africa, plastic bag consumption in Botswana fell sharply and remained significantly low 18 months after charging for them began,” the authors write. “It suggests that South Africa’s attempt to use taxes to regulate plastic bag consumption failed because the initial price that was too low.

“Whether the Botswana levy will result in sustained lower consumption, as in Ireland, remains to be seen. However, based on the Irish experience, we predict that as long as the price remains high the levy in Botswana will continue to be effective over time.”