Ireland aims to tax plastic carrier bags

Charging suppliers would suppress demand, reduce waste and litter, says Dempsey

The Irish government has announced that it intends to tax plastic carrier bags to cut down on waste and litter. At the end of last week, Irish environment minister Noel Dempsey said there would be a two-month period for comments from industry and other stakeholders, but that the government would then take definitive action against carrier bags. "The day of the plastic bag is coming to an end," he said in a statement.

The policy of an environmental tax was recommended by Cork-based consultants Fehily Timoney & Company, whose report recommends a levy of euros 0.04 (I£0.03) on every bag, to be charged to suppliers. The study found that this would be less effective in suppressing demand than forcing retailers to charge customers for using carrier bags, but that it would be simpler to administer and would be less of a burden on Ireland's many small food retailers. An official at the environment ministry said the policy could formally adopted as early as this December when the Irish budget is announced.

Ireland uses more than 1.2bn carrier bags a year, handed out free from retail outlets. The study found that most of these go to landfill, with an unknown quantity ending up littering the environment. It says a tax would have less impact on the litter problem than would measures to improve local authority controls on litter, but that the levy would introduce an element of the polluter-pays principle and reduce the number of bags being used. Voluntary efforts by retailers to persuade customers to use alternatives to free carrier bags had failed, the report said, due to consumer apathy.

The report claims such a charge - which would be imposed on imported as well as domestically produced bags - would not contravene EU laws on free trade because EU member states are allowed to use market-based instruments to achieve higher levels of environmental protection. However, an Italian scheme imposing a 10% recycling charge on polyethylene for plastic bags was dropped two years ago following pressure from the European Commission and accusations from industry that it was a trade barrier (ENDS Daily 22 July 1998).

Follow Up:
Irish environment ministry, tel: +353 1 888 2000. References: "Consultancy Study on Plastic Bags".

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