Every year shoppers in Northern Ireland use 200 million plastic bags to bring their purchases home in. Sometimes it appears most of those bags end up in our hedgerows or blowing across otherwise scenic spots.
Now the Department of the Environment wants to introduce a tax on bag use and has put its proposals out for public consultation.
As with any such measure, there are conflicting views on the issue. Some critics see it as simply a revenue-raising ploy for the cash-strapped Department, while others argue that it will cut down on the use of the bags. The latter have compelling evidence to back up their case given the experience in the Republic where the introduction of a tax on plastic bags led to a massive reduction in their use.
Disposing of the bags is an expensive problem and anything which will reduce the number of bags in circulation must be good news.
Already many retailers have introduced re-usable bags for shopping and the introduction of a tax can only increase their popularity.
Those who say that a tax will hit people who can least afford it are on shaky ground as they have readily available and environmentally friendly alternative bags to carry their shopping in. As such it is a sound environmental measure and should be commended. However, some people say that it is simply a revenue-raising exercise disguised as environmental protection. That argument is difficult to sustain.
Given that bag use will decline when they are taxed, the Department would be faced with diminishing returns.
The reluctance of the public to pay for bags means the money raised for the Department's coffers would be much less than would seem likely at first glance.
If it is a money-making exercise it is a very poorly thought out one. In any case, any money raised can be used for environmental issues, so everyone will be a winner in the longer term.