Good product, bad product? Making the case for product levies

Good product, bad product? Making the case for product levies

The way in which products are designed determines a large part of how we use energy, water and resources, and how much we waste. The products around us also shape our view of ourselves – few people would dispute that the products that have delivered so much wealth in the post-war era have also turned us into a ‘throwaway’ society. Do we want to continue living with stuff which conflicts with our new sense of trying to be stewards of the planet, or do we want to consume in ways that are smart, pleasurable, but are also helping to repair the damage?
To date, very little government policy has been directed at changing the nature of products in ways that are radical enough to meet the environmental challenges we face. The market still brings forward products that demonstrably conflict with stated environmental goals, from appliances that cannot be taken off standby to packaging that is clever but cannot be recycled.
This report argues for a radical change to the way we tax goods, replacing VAT with a goods tax that is graduated according to the environmental impact of products, with full exemption for those products deemed to be the best performers. This is likely to be a long road – at present it is not even legal under EU tax law, but we look to the prime minister to seek support in Europe from like-minded premiers to agree the necessary changes. If a universal levy is not feasible, we should start by concentrating on products and materials with the biggest environmental impact: from materials that cannot presently be recycled, to the worst-performing products for energy and water use, and construct levies in a way that stimulates innovation towards better alternatives.
Julie Hill, Hannah Hislop, Anne-Emmanuelle B├ęgin
Publication Date:
28 February, 2008

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