Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Stormont's plastic bag tax: how much should we pay?

Alex Attwood
Alex Attwood

Consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland would bear the brunt of a plastic bag tax, it has been claimed.

Leaders of local industry and campaigners made the comments ahead of yesterday's launch of a public consultation on the contentious issue.

The Environment Minister has asked the public to give their views on single-use bag payments, due to be introduced on April 1, 2013.

Alex Attwood has also requested that those participating in the consultation indicate how much consumers should pay for their use.

Over 200 million carrier bags are used in Northern Ireland every year, with a great environmental cost incurred in disposing of them.

In Wales a charge of 5p will be placed on single-use carrier bags from October 2011, while the Republic has imposed a fee of 22 cents on most plastic bags since 2002.

To date, no bag charging provisions have been put in place in England or Scotland.

No final decisions have been made here, regarding carrier bag type or the amount of tax, but charges of up to 15p per bag have been mooted. And as millions are used for groceries in supermarkets and other shops across the province, it means a potentially massive cost to consumers.

Mr Attwood said the charge aims to reduce bag usage and raise revenue to provide funding for the environment and other Government priorities.

"This is a green initiative and it can symbolise a change of attitude, a change in culture, a change for the better," he said.

"Throw away bags are an eyesore and result in hidden costs which each and every one of us pays."

But Northern Ireland Friends of the Earth campaigner Declan Allison said Stormont was sending out a "perverse and muddled message".

"We support measures to reduce the number of single-use bags, but the proposed levy seems to be poorly thought through," he said.

"It's unclear if it is intended to discourage bag use or if it is a revenue raiser. It has to do one or the other - it can't do both."

Mr Allison pointed out that the Department of the Environment has had £4m per year deducted from its budget to fund the Green New Deal.

He added that, as the proposed levy will raise enough money to replace it, it appears to be little more than a thinly disguised revenue raiser.

Head of Environment at the British Retail Consortium, Bob Gordon, said their members were against the imposition of a new plastic tax.

"Firstly, it costs consumers, particularly people who are vulnerable and who cannot afford it," Mr Gordon said.

"Secondly, retailers have already demonstrated how to reduce plastic bag usage, by offering bags for life and loyalty card points for re-use.

"And ultimately, from the research we have consulted, it's a tax that may not even protect the environment".

In the past, well-known retailers such as TK Maxx have introduced fees for plastic bags, but dropped them after customers complained.

Outlets like Lidl and Marks and Spencer continue to successfully operate a bag payment policy.

Quotes

  • Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) chief executive Glyn Roberts: "We're against the tax; it just doesn't add up from an environmental or business point of view."
  • Sinn Fein environment spokesman, Daithi McKay: "The public believe the levy will help change their behaviour in a favourable way and lead to a reduction in plastic bag usage, and it should be up to them to set a price."
  • Dr John Barry, Green Party sustainability spokesman: "Introducing this tax is only following suit after its success in the Republic in terms of reducing plastic bag usage and spending the money raised on environmental issues."
  • Avenue Recycling MD, Michael Wilkinson: "I think paying 5p or 10p for a plastic bag is fair, as it will bring down their usage. It works in places like M&S and Lidl."

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