Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Tax plastic bags to curb their use

Edwin Poots has proved himself a concerned and able minister since taking over the environment portfolio in the power-sharing Executive.

But it is difficult to escape the conclusion that he has missed a trick by refusing to introduce a tax on plastic bags in a bid to protect the countryside.

Plastic bags are everywhere. Pressure group Friends of the Earth suggests that every household has around 80 of them, a somewhat dubious estimate, but indicative of our heavy reliance on the bags. The idea of ‘bags for life’ favoured by the minister is fine in theory, but of little practical value. All that happens is that shoppers collect those bags and then forget to take them on their next visit to the shops.

The Republic of Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce a tax on plastic bags in 2002 and saw their use fall rapidly by 90%. As well, the tax raised additional revenue of £109m over the past seven years for the government, which was earmarked to be spent on environmental measures.

It was a win-win situation. Indeed, the Irish government now plans to double the tax on plastic to further stop its use except for certain types of goods such as meat, poultry, ice or goods which are unpackaged.

The bags are a menace to the environment. They will not degrade for thousands of years and the countryside is littered with them. They are so commonplace that it will take a strong measure to curtail their use. A ban is impractical but a tax would make shoppers think twice and opt instead for a more environmentally-sensitive alternative. |Appealing to people’s conscience on this issue simply does not work. They need to be directed.

And, if shoppers continued to ignore their responsibilities then Mr Poots’ department would have another source of income through the tax. Given the current financial cuts facing the various departments, surely that would be welcome.

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