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Correcting Negative Externality in Consumption

In: Business and Management

Submitted By astrid463
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Word count: 1160

This research essay aims to provide an insight and overview of the economic effects of a plastic bag tax. It is important that this issue is addressed because if it is left unaddressed, the consequences could be dire. The essay will discuss the impact that plastic bags are having on society and why the over consumption of such needs to be corrected. Furthermore, it will explain the economic models that are relevant to the issue along with analysing real world examples of similar policies; discussing the limitations and restrictions associated with such models. Setting the Context
Australia’s consumption of plastic grocery bags was estimated to be approximately seven billion per year in 2002 (National Plastic Shopping Bags Working Group, 2002), so we can assume it is in excess of this figure currently. This consumption results in negative externalities, not only impacting the environment, but also reducing the efficiency of other sectors of the economy. As these plastic bags are composed of many non-renewable resources such as crude oil, coal and gases, there is an opportunity cost associated with not recycling them. The fuel consumed by driving a car one kilometre is equivalent to the petroleum content of 8.7 bags (Environment
Australia, 2002). As these bags are used once, and disregarded, that means that Australia is wasting enough potential fuel to power a car for over 800 million kilometres annually.
Moreover, thousands of marine mammals and birds die annually around the globe due to plastic litter. When these animals die, the untouched plastic litter re-enters waterways until it is ingested by another animal. This lethal cycle is just one example of the many negative externalities impacting the environment as a result of the over-consumption of bags.
Clean up Australia day states that “There are 2 major reasons that plastic bags are particularly problematic in the litter stream”. ("Plastic Bag Facts", 2016)
They last from
1000 years 2. They escape and float easily in air and water, travelling long distances
Unless something is done to combat these side effects, marine animals will continue to die, all the while wasting resources and polluting landscapes.

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Word count: 1160

Description of Relevant Economic Model
In order to reduce the consumption of plastic bags to an efficient level, economic theories and models can be leveraged. When there is a negative externality, a tax can bring about the efficient level of output/consumption. This can be modelled in the graph shown below.

Price of

Negative externality=amount of tax


plastic bags

D1=Private benefit mEf pEFFICIENT






Figure 1



S1=Private cost before tax
S2=Social + Private cost after tax

Deadweight loss


D2=Social benefit

MEq=Market equilibrium without tax MEf=Efficient equilibrium /Market equilibrium post tax

Quantity of plastic bags

The underpinning theory that allows for this to happen is the law of supply and demand; as the price of a good rises, the quantity supplied is reduced.
If a good or service does not have any substitutes/ is addictive, then they are considered to be inelastic and consumption of such items is not responsive to changes in price. On the contrary, items like plastic bags that have alternatives i.e. jute bags, paper bags etc. are elastic and the consumption of them can be influenced via the addition of a tax.
As shown in figure 1, when the tax is applied, the price of the bags moves to “P efficient”, which
In turn causes the quantity consumed to decrease concurrently to “Q efficient. The consumption equilibrium before the tax ( MEq) is shown to be located on the S1 curve; representing the private cost that a customer would pay prior to the tax i.e. the few cents applied across all products. The S2 curve represents the social cost; that is the cost of the externality on everyone else and the environment. The tax ultimately shifts the private cost to be equal to the externality, meaning that consumers will be paying entirely for the impact of the negative externality they are having on the environment and hopefully seek to find other alternatives that have a lower social cost.

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Critical Analysis of Key Arguments
The issues associated with the over consumption of plastic bags extend beyond Australia.
There have been many attempts by other countries to combat bag consumption using economic incentives. Numerous reports reflect the impact and effectiveness of these methods.
The successfulness of the suggested plastic bag tax can be predicted by referring to these.
While the plastic bag tax will be effective in reducing the consumption of bags, it is still subject to constraints and limitations. Ireland was one of the first countries to impose a levy on the plastic bags in 2002. When the levy was first implemented, consumption was greatly reduced by an estimated 94% (Convery, McDonnell, & Ferreira, 2007). However in the following years,
Ireland has seen erosion in the public’s cooperation with the levy, with the consumption of bags having increased by 43% since the introduction of the levy (Ayalon, Goldrath, Rosenthal, &
Grossman, 2009).
Although the initial implementation of the levy saw efficient results, it is unlikely to be successful in the long due to public cooperation. In addition to this, levying plastic bags means that consumers with a higher income will be less affected. This negative utility is one reason that a tax may not be the sole solution to the problem.
In addition to this, bypass mechanisms such as: the “unofficial sale of plastic bags outside supermarkets at a price lower than the tax; sale of packaged plastic bags in the supermarkets, before the checkout counter; shifting use towards non-taxed bags etc.” as quoted by (Ayalon,
Goldrath, Rosenthal, & Grossman, 2009 (p.2030))
Other policies could also be used to correct the over consumption of plastic bags. For instance, a complete ban could be imposed on the purchase of bags by the government. The banning of plastic bags has also been implemented in other countries such as Rwanda. The initiative to ban polythene bags from Rwanda is a law that was promulgated in 2008 (Froidbise, 2015). The ban makes it illegal to manufacture, import use or sell bags in Rwanda. The strengths of this policy are that plastic bag consumption will be reduced by 100%. Furthermore, the long term effectiveness will be greater than that of the tax.
However once again, there are limitations and issues with this model. When bans are imposed, there are often subsequent black markets; obviously reducing the efficiency of the policy.

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Word count: 1160

To conclude, introducing a ‘plastic bag tax’ will reduce the consumption of plastic bugs, subsequently reducing the negative impact associated with them. By reducing the market equilibrium to an efficient level, the private benefit of consuming plastic bags is nullified.
These conclusions are justified through the analysis of both economic models and real-world evidence. By following in the footsteps of countries like Ireland, Australia will be one step closer to being litter-free, all while boosting the economic efficiently of the country.

Page 4

Word count: 1160

Ayalon, O., Goldrath, T., Rosenthal, G., & Grossman, M. (2009). Reduction of plastic carrier bag use: An analysis of alternatives in Israel. Waste Management, 29(7), 2025-2032. Boomerang Alliance, (2015, August). Facts on plastic. Retrieved from Carver, T. (2013). The Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 May 2016, from Clavel, É. (2014). Think you can't live without plastic bags? Consider this: Rwanda did it |
Émilie Clavel. the Guardian. Retrieved 11 May 2016, from Clean Up Australia. (2016). Retrieved 9 May 2016, from Convery, F., McDonnell, S., & Ferreira, S. (2007). The most popular tax in Europe? Lessons from the Irish plastic bags levy. Environmental And Resource Economics, 38(1), 1-11. Cormack, L. (2016, February 17). Marine plastic pollution senate inquiry targets Australian ocean pollution. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from Cubby, B. (2016). The Sydney Morning Herald: national, world, business, entertainment, sport and technology news from Australia's leading newspaper.. Retrieved 11 May
2016, from
Dikgang, J., Leiman, A., & Visser, M. (2012). Analysis of the plastic-bag levy in South Africa.
Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 66, 59-65. Retrieved from plasticbag_levy_in_South_Africa/links/55394c550cf2239f4e7d8f52.pdf
Environment Australia,. (2002). Plastic Shopping Bags – Analysis of Levies and Environmental
Impacts(p. 41). NOLAN-ITU Pty Ltd. Retrieved from Froidbise, A. (2015). Behind the Scenes of the Plastic Bag Ban in Rwanda (Undergraduate).
Lund University.
Homonoff, T. (2015, November 17) Paper or plastic? How disposable bag bans, fees and taxes affect consumer behaviour. The Conversation. Retrieved from Jambeck, J.R. Geyer, R. Wilcox, C. Siegler, T.R. Perryman, M. Andrady, A. Narayan, R., Law,
K.L. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347:(6223), pp. 768–771.
Retrieved from

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Kohls, Ryan. 2011. “The Plastic Bag Debate.” The Dominion. Retrieved May 08, from Marszalek, J. (2016, Feb 24) States band together on plastic bag ban. Herald Sun. Retrieved from
&mode=pr emium&dest=
National Plastic Shopping Bags Working Group,. (2002). National Plastic Bags Working Group
Report to the National Packing Covenant Council (pp. 9-10). Environment Protection and
Heritage Council. Retrieved from Nofuru, N. (2015). Cameroon Struggles to Enforce Plastic-Bag Ban As Black Market Supports
Demand From Retailers. Global Press Journal. Retrieved 11 May 2016, from Parliament of Australia. (n.d.). The threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia. Retrieved May
07, 2016, from nications/ Marine_plastics
Plastic Bag Facts. (2016). Retrieved 11 May 2016, from Page 6

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