Belfast Telegraph

Taxing litter's a great idea but the cash is not in the bag yet, Sammy

By Lindy McDowell

Another thing which (along with university tuition fees, pensions and home heating oil) only the rich will, in future, be able to afford ...

The local plastic bag.

This humble helper-cum-ubiquitous-bit-of-litter has made it to the endangered species list - up there with the polar bear on the ice floe - ever since Sammy announced it would play a key role in Stormont's revenue raising budget strategy.

In future bags will cost 15p a touch and the money engendered by this eco-friendly wheeze will be pumped back into the communal coffers.

What's not to like about a plan like that?

The price will make shoppers think twice about forking out, hence fewer plastic bags fluttering around our streets or adorning hedgerows. And the profits made from those which do get sold will go to help make up the slack for other funding shortfalls.

It's estimated that £16m could be raised by the bag tax here.

Or could it?

Down south, where the levy - first introduced in 2002 - was a world leader, plastic bag consumption has decreased to a tenth of what it used to be.

Will it work quite so well up here, though?

The idea that if something costs there will be less demand for it and people will also be less inclined to drop it as litter is a sound one environmentally.

The plastic bag takes even longer to decompose than a Hollywood star - somewhere in the region of 1,000 years.

This is on a par with us coming across still-sound ye olde Tesco bags from the era of William the Conqueror.

So good to see the back of all that ...

Except that given that we live in one of the more minging parts of Europe - a place where dog walkers routinely scoop up their pet's poo, deposit it in a small fluorescent plastic bag and then hang it on the hedge like some grotesque decoration for some other poor sod to clear away - I'm not sure this is us entirely home and dry on the litter front.

And then there's the price thing. Are people really going to buy store bags at 15p a pop. Or (given the local reputation for black market ingenuity) turn to alternative suppliers?

Especially when you consider the profits to be made from bags. According to Stormont ...

Have Sammy and Co badly overestimated the market there may actually be out there for 15p plastic bags?

There's a recession on. Maybe the 15p shopper sounds like a goer if you're on MLA wages - plus expenses.

But in the real world that's a punch on the pocket. It is a tax which will particularly hit poor people with large families.

It's a tax that's more likely to succeed environmentally than economically.

And if our friends at Stormont have overestimated how much revenue they'll raise with the scheme, isn't it just possible that their sums might be a tad over-optimistic elsewhere, too?

They're planning to sell off a port and some considerable real estate we have lying around the place.

Who's going to buy this? Will we get a decent price?

Or is this going to be the equivalent of one of those desperation car boot sales where no offer is refused?

Will we come to look back on this as the time when we sold off precious assets to rake in a few quick bucks?

Up at Stormont they seem confident their sums make sense.

Here in the real world some of us are still not sure future economic stability is actually in the bag.

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