The Northern Ireland Executive has become the latest regional government to propose a compulsory levy on plastic carrier for retail customers.
A public consultation on the proposal was launched today along with an outline of the plans which estimates that bag usage in the principality could fall by as much as 95 per cent as a result.
Some £4 million has already been deducted from the Department of the Environment’s (DoE) annual budget with any new law expected to make up the shortfall, although a minimum price level is yet to be set per carrier.
It is the DoE’s intention to introduce the levy no later than April 2013, and all providers of carrier bags will be obliged to pass the charge onto the customer and all revenues from the charge will be received by the government.
Despite the possible financial and environmental gains which could be achieved through the proposed bag tax, it has been dismissed as “narrow-minded” and a “risk to consumers” by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS).
James Lowman, ACS CEO, said: “We are in favour of reducing carrier bag waste to help the environment, but there are already a number of local shops in Northern Ireland who are working with their communities to introduce voluntary measures, including incentive and charge schemes, which effectively achieve this objective.”
“ACS is strongly opposed to any measure which introduces an unnecessary tax on consumers.”
Northern Ireland has followed the lead of the Welsh Assembly which has introduced a minimum charge of 5p per carrier bag that will come into force in October this year.
In Wales charges will apply to all types of carrier bags not just the plastic kind but retailers will be passing on the revenues from the levy to environmental causes instead of to the government.
A report from the Environment Agency in February argued that the danger of plastic bags was overstated and that contrary to popular belief they have the lowest carbon footprint of any type of carrier.
Lowman warned: “The Department of Environment’s hastily prepared proposals to raise £4 million in revenue from this bag tax to plug a hole in their budgetary shortfalls are narrow-minded and risk alienating consumers and communities at a far greater cost to the retail economy and the environment.”
The public consultation will run until October 12th 2011 and the ACS says that it will continue to lobby hard against the levy along with the Northern Ireland Independent Retailers Trade Association.