Tax on plastic bags misses targets

By: Thomas Ström 9/17/20

”The government needs to stop using the environment as a reason to fill budget holes”

The past weekend I stumbled upon a Facebook post. It said: “At the moment, one litre of petrol is cheaper than two plastic bags in the Kingdom of Sweden”. How is this possible? What is going on? I decided to look a little closer on the events since the new tax on plastic bags was implemented on May 1st this year.

Actually, the public hasn’t heard very much about the effects of the new tax which the government, with Per Bolund - Minister of Financial Markets and Housing from the Swedish Green Party in the forefront, calculates 2,1 billion SEK in tax revenues only in 2020.

Also, the tax would contribute to an improved environment as well as saving the oceans from bad plastics.

From the information I have gathered it becomes clear that it will be difficult to bring in any billions this year. As a matter of fact, the plastic bag tax has in the first two months grossed only 22 million SEK. This obviously means that we don’t purchase plastic bags in Sweden any longer, as we did before the tax.
So, what do we use instead?
Well, we bring our own bags to the grocery store and we buy more multiuse bags. But more than that, we purchase twice as many paper bags as before.

The calculated tax income from the plastic bag tax seems to fail, but how has the tax impacted the environment?
My own analysis is that I don’t think that there are any fewer Swedish plastic bags in the oceans. Not on the West Coast where I live any ways. Every week I see heaps of garbage and not least plastic bags from other countries in the water.

And one can wonder how environmental the increasingly popular paper bag really is? The answer is: considerably less than plastic bags made from recycled plastics.
According to the Environmental Director of one of Sweden’s largest grocery store chains, a paper bag is environmentally neutral first after being used 42 times. A recycled plastic bag, on the other hand, is environmentally neutral after being used only twice.
TWICE!!! The first time when you carry your groceries home, and the second time when it is used as a garbage bag. From an environmental standpoint, the tax should rather have been directed towards the paper bag.

What makes this even worse is that the sale of paper bags has doubled since May 1st. What the authorities didn’t consider is that these paper bags take up approximately ten times more space than the plastic bags. In practice this means ten times more transports to the stores and thus ten times more emissions.

With this background I think it is time that the government stops using the environment as a reason to fill budget holes. Get your act together!