Phuket Bag Plague: carrot or stick?

PHUKET: What works best, the carrot or the stick?

It’s an age-old question, and one brought to the fore here in Phuket with the launch this week of the Tesco Lotus ‘Green Bag Green Point’ scheme. [See details, current issue of the Phuket Gazette. Digital subscribers click here.]

Lotus will reward shoppers who reuse bags – instead of using new plastic ones – with points exchangeable for store coupons.

So it’s clear what Lotus thinks: dangling the carrot of cash in front of Phuket’s plastic-addicted hundreds of thousands is the best way to make them kick the habit.

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What this means for ‘Phuket No Shopping Bag’, the stalled island-wide plastic bag charging scheme, is as yet unclear.

The Gazette has already made its support for bag charging – the ‘stick’ option – very clear.

We believe the project must go ahead, if only to raise awareness of the need for Phuket to live more sustainably.

And plastic bag charges have succeeded where they have been implemented. UK retailer Marks and Spencer said bag use at its stores fell 80 percent within one year of introducing a charge.

Nevertheless, the Tesco Lotus ‘carrot’ approach has its merits.

Charging for bags opens retailers to the accusation that they are profiteering on environmental concerns. Some consumers ask why they should put money into retailers’ coffers for something they used to get for free.

The Lotus incentive scheme will more easily confound the cynics, even if the company is paying customers just one satang per reused plastic bag.

And the retailer says incentive schemes have worked in other countries. In the UK, “the vast majority” of Tesco Lotus’s customers now reuse their plastic bags, according to a spokesman.

We hope the scheme has the same effect in Phuket and the rest of Thailand.

But where does this leave ‘Phuket No Shopping Bag’?

A loyalty card scheme of the type lotus has instigated cannot be copied by all. The beauty of the island-wide bag charging scheme lies in its simplicity. Any retailer – from Central and Jungceylon, down to the smallest mom and pop store – can join in.

There is understandable reluctance among retailers who have already signed the MoU to go ahead with bag charging while major competitors hold out.

But the Lotus offer of incentives to consumers who use their own bags does not preclude the company from charging for bags, too.

Phuket Governor Wichai Phraisa-ngop is writing to the chain’s head office in Bangkok to request that it do so. The Gazette sincerely hopes that Gov Wichai’s pleas are answered.

Tesco Lotus has chosen the carrot. But that does not mean it can’t also wield the stick.

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