Motivated by a Tax, Irish Spurn Plastic Bags

There is something missing from this otherwise typical bustling cityscape. There are taxis and buses. There are hip bars and pollution. Every other person is talking into a cellphone. But there are no plastic shopping bags, the ubiquitous symbol of urban life.

In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. There was an advertising awareness campaign. And then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts.

Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable ”” on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.

“When my roommate brings one in the flat it annoys the hell out of me,” said Edel Egan, a photographer, carrying groceries last week in a red backpack.

Drowning in a sea of plastic bags, countries from China to Australia, cities from San Francisco to New York have in the past year adopted a flurry of laws and regulations to address the problem, so far with mixed success. The New York City Council, for example, in the face of stiff resistance from business interests, passed a measure requiring only that stores that hand out plastic bags take them back for recycling.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Energy, Natural Resources, England / UK

6 comments on “Motivated by a Tax, Irish Spurn Plastic Bags

  1. Hal says:

    I lived in Ireland from September 2002 until August 2003. The plastic bag levy was new then, but it was already successful. Thirty-three cents per bag may not be much, but it sure motivated me . I didn’t realize how simple it was not to rely on store-provided plastic bags until the levy tapped in to my inner penny pincher. I didn’t have a car, so I carried a few canvas bags with me to the supermarket. Those who did have cars just kept a few bags in the trunk. Easy as pie.

    The levy proves that demand for plastic bags is extremely elastic; that is, even a small change in the cost will move people to substitute goods. In light of Ireland’s successful experiment, I hope some of our cities and states will take the cue.

  2. Corie says:

    I am so seriously going to get me a cloth bag for my groceries.

    At the stores, I keep intending to at least ask for paper bags, and then I forget at the last moment and they’ve thrown everything into a plastic bag.

    And yesterday, the girl split my two items into TWO bags — so wasteful! I got to the lobby where there is are plastic bag recycling containers, and took both items out (and the receipt) and stuffed the bags into the container rather than take them home with me.

  3. Andrew717 says:

    The Kroger I use had a display for a while with reusable bags on sale for 99 cents and a display about reducing the use of plastic bags. I bought one (only needed one for that run) but when I returned, the display was gone and an employee even asked me about my bag (it’s emblazoned with e Kroger logo), wondering where I’d gotten it. Pity, it’s a good program and at a dollar a pop they were probably even making a little money on the bags.

  4. Hoskyns says:

    Sounds a nice idea in principle, until you realize that the 94% drop in plastic [b]shopping[/b] bags corresponds to a meteoric rise in sales of plastic trash can bags (“bin liners”). All those who used to recycle their shopping bags for that purpose can do so no longer – and end up buying not just a small number of canvas bags but an unlimited number of larger and inevitably thicker plastic bags. …

  5. Robert A. says:

    WCB: Not necessarily true. We always insist on paper bags. We then use them to line the trash container in the kitchen and when that’s full, put them directly into the trash can for disposal. That way, we avoid using plastic bin liners completely.

  6. Irenaeus says:

    WCB [#4]: I would add that many people do NOT use their shopping bags as garbage bags. Specialized trash bags have been a big business for years. People like them because they’re sturdy and typically much larger than shopping bags, which allows you to take out the garbage less often.