05 January 2019 14:31

The aim of the bag charge measure is to collect tax, not public health

Prof. Dr Üstün: 'The bag charge measure is a project that on the one hand places a burden on the people’s shoulders and on the other boost the budget.

Photograph: Mahmut Serdar Alakuş/AA



A charge is to be introduced for plastic shopping bags as part of the restrictions imposed on the consumption of nylon bags and plastic packaging under an amendment to the Environmental Law. With costs accounting for ten kuruş of the twenty-five kuruş plastic bag charge, the fifteen kuruş portion will accrue to the state in tax. Prof. Dr Beyza Üstün sums up the amendment as follows: “The bag charge measure is a project that on the one hand places a burden on the people’s shoulders and on the other boosts the ministry’s budget.”

It is envisaged that the bag charge measure will cut down the use of plastic bags in Turkey, where 25 billion plastic bags are used annually, but no restriction on production is entailed. According to official figures, a total of 8.612 million tonnes of plastic is produced in various sectors and 1.8 million tonnes of plastic packaging is marketed. I spoke to Prof. Dr Beyza Üstün, and Fırat Durel from the Istanbul Chamber of Environmental Engineers, about the bag charge measure within the amendment to the Environmental Law, adopted in the General Assembly of Parliament.


Arguing that measures cannot be taken to protect the environment and ecosystem with fines or money, Environmental Engineer Prof. Dr Beyza Üstün said, “No strategic step that entails charges can protect life. This is a new area for capital to venture into. Casting our eyes back, since 2011 the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization has been a state organ which hands out natural habitats to capital, opens them up for construction and accumulates capital from this. This amendment, too, provides the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization with an additional budgetary contribution. Plastic bag manufacture is in progress and the ministry or the system says, ‘Pay but use it; what you’re doing is a violation, so pay the charge for it up front.’ You cannot reduce anything by charging for its use. The ensuing toll on the people’s budget is an undisputable fact.”


Saying, “Bags continue to be manufactured and plastic continues to be manufactured in all areas, needed or not,” Üstün commented, “It is tragicomic to say, rather than dispensing with the manufacture of such a substance that nature does not recognize, takes centuries to decompose and poses a serious threat to the ecosystem, ‘We are manufacturing it but make sure you cut down on its use’ and place all the responsibility on the people’s shoulders. The bag charge measure is a project that on the one hand places a burden on the people’s shoulders and on the other boosts the ministry’s budget.”


Considering the bag charge measure to be a strategy under an “environmentalist” guise, Üstün stressed that priority must be given to limiting the manufacture of plastic: “This measure is a strategy that does not call a halt to plastic manufacturers, accommodates manufacture and permits the accumulation of capital from this but directly imposes the ensuing burden on the people and is thus one of ‘we are doing good’ under an ‘environmentalist’ guise. That is, nothing will change. Just like with the commercialization of water. The spin of ‘preventing overconsumption’ was put on the giving of water to companies and the selling of water for a charge. The people cannot overuse anyway, they use a certain amount. That’s how it is with plastic bags. Increasing or reducing is not a matter of amount. This measure is not a strategy that will prevent the use of plastic, which is forever being manufactured and encroaches on all phases of our life.”


Fırat Durel from the Istanbul Branch of the Chamber of Environmental Engineers also pointed out that the manufacture of plastic must be limited with an eye on public health. Explaining that plastic does not decompose in nature but degrades and spreads in the form of tiny particles (microplastic) and accumulates in aquatic environments, Durel said, “It has emerged from recently conducted research that there is microplastic across the gamut of table salts in Turkey (sea salt, rock salt, lake salt, etc.). Microplastic is a substance that manufactures carcinogens which cannot be expelled from the body. This poses a serious threat to public health and instances of cancer are greatly on the rise.” Stating that plastic bags would serve as a mask for giving a handout to capital,” Durel continued, “Looking at the law, we see it singles out plastic bags in a very pretentious manner. Today we are just discussing the price and how much the state and how much the company gets. Actually, the fundamental problem is restricting single-use plastics, guiding towards durable use and reducing plastic packaging. Under the existing law, the problem is imposed, not on the manufacturer, that is basically capitalist relations, but on the workers and employees who use it. But plastic still continues to be manufactured and there is absolutely no reduction as to this. This law does not trouble itself with reducing the heaps of plastic. Plastic bags serve as a mask for giving a handout to capital.”


With the attempt made in Turkey to circumvent the use of plastic with the bag charge measure, Europe, by contrast, has decided to ban single-use plastic products. Under a resolution on which the European Parliament and European Union Commission agreed on last December, single-use plastic products for which there exist suitable alternatives will be banned from markets as of 2021. Plastic ear sticks, cutlery sets, plates, pipettes, drink mixers, balloon sticks and food covers will not be used in EU countries.