Northern Ireland Bring in Plastic Bag Tax

Recycling Polythene Bags

Recycling Polythene Bags

Since 2002, the Republic of Ireland has been charging a tax on plastic bags. Faded plastic bags still litter the river Dodder in South Dublin and as these bags are not bio-degradable, it is highly likely that they pre-date the 2002 levy but with current figures suggesting a 20-fold decrease in the impact of plastic bag litter on the country, clearly the tax is working.

An estimated 1.3 billion plastic bags were given away before the levy of 9p per bag was introduced. The charge goes towards establishing an Office for Environmental Enforcement for the disposal of fridges and freezers but the charge has put shoppers off purchasing the plastic bags.

Within three months of the introduction of the levy, bag usage was down an impressive 90%, with shoppers continuously reusing their plastic bags or making use of the free recyclable paper bags provided by some stores.
With Northern Ireland now following suit by charging a plastic bag tax, it seems that word of the damage plastic bags are causing is being spread; Wales have been charging a 5p plastic bag levy since October 2011 with funds going to charitable causes and Scotland is also considering this. However, it is not necessarily the plastic bag itself causing the issue, but the irresponsible disposal of them.

Paper bags are thought of as being an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic bags. This is not necessarily the case. Masses of trees are cut down to make paper bags and the fuels used to power the machinery and transport the bags do of course leave a rather large carbon footprint. Paper bags do break down very easily if composted but it is quite a process to recycle them. Of course, paper bags are not very durable so are rarely reusable.

Plastic bags are created from oils which aren’t renewable like trees yet the manufacture of the bags has a lower energy requirement than paper. They can be recycled (although again, it can be a tricky process) and are also reusable. 100% plant-based biodegradable plastic bags are fully degradable in compost and are not manufactured from oils, rather from food sources such as corn.

Canvas bags are a popular alternative to paper or plastic bags but with the Republic of Ireland’s plastic bag levy going towards protecting the environment, coupled with responsible disposal (recycling) or reuse, plastic bag litter can be minimal and the safe disposal of household appliances containing ozone damaging CFC’s will be funded.

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