Consumers asked to ‘be patient’ on launch of plastic bag tax

RETAILERS IN NORTHERN Ireland have called on the government and customers to “be patient” as they get used to the new plastic bag tax launched today, April 8th, 2013.


Retailers and businesses in Northern Ireland must now charge at least five pence for each new single use carrier bag they supply to customers.


The levy will apply to the majority of new single-use carrier bags, regardless of the material from which the bag is made (the levy applies to all new single use bags made from plastic, paper and other natural materials).


Some 250m carrier bags are used in Northern Ireland each year.


The Northern Ireland Executive hopes the tax will cut carrier bag use by as much as 80% and the levy will be used to fund environmental projects.


“In Northern Ireland around 30,000 bags are used every hour,” said environment minister Alex Attwood. “This levy is intended to reduce their environmental damage by cutting the number of bags used.


Charges elsewhere have been a very successful way of substantially cutting bag use. Working with the retail industry we should aim for a reduction of at least 80%.”


Retailers have diverted significant time and money to preparing staff and stores for the introduction of carrier bag charging, but warned there is still a risk of initial customer confusion and conflict.


“Our members […] are confident they’re ready for this new regime,” said Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, Aodhán Connolly.  


“Even so, there is still the possibility of frontline staff in shops, small and large, facing conflict and confusion from customers who haven’t been well enough informed. I hope the department and the public will be patient while we all get used to this new system.” 


Connolly also suggested that bags should not be the priority when it comes to environmental concerns:“Our members are targeting the much bigger environmental prizes to be won from, for example, reducing the whole-life impact of products from manufacture and transport through their lifespan to disposal and recycling,” he added.


Wales introduced a bag tax in 2011. In England, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is waiting to evaluate the results of the Welsh legislation before deciding on whether to introduce a similar tax.


The political focus on plastic bags has long been criticised by those in the waste and business sectors, who argue that voluntary schemes are working and that plastic bags make up only a very tiny, albeit very visible, proportion of waste.