Plastic bag levy nets €166m in 10 years

The Government levy on the use of plastic shopping bags has generated €166m for the exchequer since it was introduced 10 years ago.

The levy has also led to a fall of at least a 90% in their use in Ireland. A similar tax is set to be introduced in Northern Ireland next January.

The reduction in the use by shoppers of disposable plastic bags has been welcomed by environmental organisations and by retailers.

A number of countries have since followed the Irish example, most notably a number of US states. However, it has yet to gain widespread acceptance and has been only partly introduced in the UK.

A tax of 5p per bag was introduced in Wales before Christmas, despite criticism by retailers. The British Retail Consortium had argued that educating customers, not penalising them, was the best way forward.

However, the British environmental campaigning group, We Are What We Do, yesterday praised the Irish levy, describing it as “a great idea” and called for similar restrictions to apply in the UK.

The total tax collected by Revenue from the Irish levy amounted to €10.5m in 2002, rising to a high of €26.6m in 2007 after the levy increased from 15c to 22c a bag. It has since fallen back to €17.4m in 2010, the last year for which figures are available.

Plastic bags accounted for about 5% of all litter in Ireland prior to the introduction of the levy. The most recent survey data from the National Litter Pollution Monitoring System, covering 2010, shows plastic bags constitute about 0.25% of litter pollution nationally.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment described the levy as an outstanding success.

“Prior to the introduction of the levy, it is estimated that over 1.2bn plastic bags were dispensed free of charge at retail outlets annually, equating to roughly 328 bags per inhabitant per year.” That has since fallen to 18 per year. Exceptions still exist for certain foodstuffs like meat, fish, poultry and certain dairy products.

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