As Italy, one of the top users of plastic shopping bags in Europe, bans plastic bags from January 1, 2011, FIE has called on the Minister to make good on his commitment to implement the recommendations of its 2009 Regulatory Impact Analysis which showed that ‘The existing legislation is too limited to allow the levy to perform as a fully effective economic instrument'.
Plastic bag usage fell from 1.3 billion bags to 20 million bags a year after the levy was introduced in 2002. The levy was increased in 2007 from 13 cent to 20 cent but usage continues to rise. Ireland now uses 140 million bags a year, yielding over 20 million euro for the Environment fund.
FIE has renewed its call to the Minister to include in the terms of reference of future waste reviews the ‘displacement effect' by which the use of plastic bags has been replaced by paper bags. Consideration of the impact of paper bags was specifically excluded from the terms of reference of the Government's Analysis.
Life Cycle Analysis has shown that paper bags they have significantly more damaging environmental impacts in a number of key areas. ‘The throw away culture that supports single use carrier bags of any kind is environmentally and economically unsound - a cost borne by both the consumer and the environment. There is no cost to the shopper who responsibly uses reusable bags.'
As Dunne's Stores are given leave by the High Court to seek to quash the assessment of the plastic bag levy claimed for the accounting periods from July 2004 to June 2008, FIE has called the Minister's attention to the failure of the Regulatory Impact Analysis [RIA] undertaken by the Department of the Environment on the levy in 2008. Not only does the RIA exclude consideration of paper bags in its terms of reference (even though they are worse for the environment in many key aspects).
FIE has called on John Gormley to extend the plastic bag level to paper carrier bags in the interest of scientific integrity as well as environmental protection.
International studies that show that paper carrier bags should be included in any plastic bag levy as paper bags have a greater adverse impact than a plastic bag for a number of the environmental issues.
Successful legislation in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are part of a wave of more than 30 bag taxes have been proposed across American cities in the past year. The need for the extension of the levy is particularly acute in Ireland as the plastic carrier bag has been displacied by an almost equal number of damaging paper carrier bags. Reusable bags only, please - and a rebate to the retailer from the levy as these take longer to pack than plastic bags.
Washington DC has become the latest US city to impose a levy not only on plastic bags but on paper carrier bags as well. The US Capital city follows successful legislation in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco as more than 20 bag taxes have been proposed across American cities in the past year.
In a letter to the Minister, FIE points out that international studies that show that paper carrier bags should be included in any plastic bag levy as ‘paper bags have a greater adverse impact than a plastic bag for a number of the environmental issues'.
The group quotes a Scottish study, which shows the damaging effects of paper bags in their manufacture as well as in the waste stream. The studies are based on life cycle analysis [LCA] which considers the impact throughout the lifetime of an object.
Manufacturing paper bags increases water consumption, atmospheric acidification (which can have effects on human health, sensitive ecosystems, forest decline and acidification of lakes) and eutrophication of water bodies (which can lead to growth of algae and depletion of oxygen).
The group says that ‘need for the extension of the level is particularly acute as the successful plastic carrier bag levy is increasing the use of these damaging paper carrier bags. A paper bag weighs roughly six times more than plastic, is about four times more expensive and takes up to ten times more storage space. A higher incidence of double bagging of paper bags for strength as well as heavier paper bags is another result of the levy.
A spokesman noted that studies show that ‘a reusable bag used more than four times is the best environmental option - and it is one that does not increase the taxation burden on the consumer.'
Some of the new US levies incorporate encouragement for retailers that provide incentives for reusable bags and allow retailers to keep a small percentage themselves.
In Ireland, the funds are used for valuable environmental initiatives such as the recent surface cleanup of historic contamination on Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour.
The Minister should re-examine the current levy to ensure that Ireland is making the best use of the environmental and economic opportunities in the light of what is happening elsewhere in the world.
As an awareness raising initiative and in influencing behavioral change by consumers, the introduction of a plastic bag levy in 2003 has been an unprecedented success. It has achieved what the European Commission has often stated is that most difficult of objects - to change individual's behavior.
Prior to the introduction of the levy it is estimated that over 1.2 billion plastic bags were given out annually in Ireland - roughly 328 bags per capita per year. When the levy was introduced in 2002 this fell to 21 bags per capita.
The National Litter Pollution Monitoring System showed that before the levy, 5% of all litter was plastic bags. The 2006 figure is 0.5%.
Last July the levy was increased from 15 cent to 22 cent to ensure the positive effect on our environment was maintained. The annual usage, which stood at 33 bags per capita, fell again to 21 bags per capita.
Receipts collected by the Revenue Commissioners have realised almost €98 million to date for an Environmental Fund.
Source: DoE 19.03.08
References: [Thanks to Clara in Portugal on the LCA list
- Study carried out for Carrefour France and presented to the European Commission concerning the LCA of plastic bags:
- Other studies dealing with the same issue can be found at the following URLs:
-Centre for Design at RMIT. "The impacts of degradable plastic bags in Australia". Final Report to Department of the Environment and Heritage.
Centre for Design at RMIT, Melbourne (Australia), 2004.
- Ecobilan. "Évaluation des impacts environnementaux des sacs de caisse.
Analyse du cicle de vie de sacs de caisse en plastique, papier et matériau biodégradable. Complément: Sac Multirotation en PP (polypropylène)". Francia, noviembre de 2005.
- Fund for Research into Industrial Development, Growth and Equity (FRIDGE), "Socio-Economic Impact of the Proposed Plastic Bag Regulations - Report". Bentley West Management Consultants for the National Economic Development and Labour Council of South Africa.