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Northern Ireland to impose carrier bag tax next year

A tax on single-use plastic carrier bags of 5p is planned in Northern Ireland in 2013. The announcement was made last week by Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, who said that the tax would rise to 10p by April 2014. The proposals now have to go before the Northern Ireland assembly for approval before becoming law. Under the plans, there will be no charge for multi-use bags in 2013, although they will cost 10p the following year.

Mr Attwood commented, “There is no doubt that carrier bags are a scourge on the environment. Evidence from other countries demonstrates that a bag levy is a simple and effective means to reduce substantially the negative environmental impact of carrier bag consumption. A proposed 10p levy on single use carrier bags and lower cost reusable carrier bags can bring about significant environmental improvement. However I recognise that consumers will need time to change their behaviour and adjust to bringing their own bags when they shop. I therefore propose to discount the charge to five pence in the first year, when the levy will only apply to single-use carrier bags. This will ensure a phased approach to charging.”

The plans are being opposed by some sectors of the business community in Northern Ireland. In an interview with the BBC, Glynn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said, “We are concerned that this is a tax on hard-pressed working families and will add to the burden of red tape, particularly for small shops who will become tax collectors for this new scheme. It’s unclear if it is intended to discourage plastic bag use or if it is a revenue raiser. It has to do one or the other – it can’t do both.”

The move follows a similar tax implemented by the Republic of Ireland in 2002 – which now amounts to 22 cents (18p) – following which usage of plastic bags in the Irish Republic fell by 90%. A similar scheme was recently implemented in Wales and has also significantly reduced the number of bags issued at the tills of retail stores.

Many environmentalists see the move by the Northern Ireland Executive as adding further pressure on David Cameron to introduce similar legislation for England. However, the efficacy of plastic bag taxes has been repeatedly called into question, as evidence from around the world suggests that their introduction results in rocketing sales of bin liners, suggesting that the genuinely ‘single-use’ carrier bag is a rare item indeed.

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