ON Monday (April 8) a 5p levy on single use carrier bags was introduced throughout Northern Ireland.
First introduced in the Republic of Ireland 11 years ago and most recently, Wales in 2011, this levy is supposedly designed to change public perception and encourage re-usability.
The Lurgan Mail headed to our local Tesco store to gauge the public reaction as Northern Ireland became the third state in the British Isles to introduce this somewhat controversial levy that has been described by some, as a ‘stealth tax’.
A degree of confusion surrounds the levy as people appeared to be unsure exactly what type of bag would incur the charge, some told us they would like to see the re-introduction of paper bags as a cost effective alternative to plastic bags. However, under the legislation, single use bags made from plastic, paper and even natural materials such as starch will all cost 5p.
Despite this confusion, many were keen to point out that they believe the charge will bring a positive change, encouraging people to use their reusable bags, Martina and Maurice Beattie stated, “It will make you remember to bring your own bags, we won’t be forgetting them from now on.”
Similarly, Alison McCormick noted, “I’ve used re-usable bags for a while now and I’ll be making sure not to forget to bring them.”
This view was also supported by Jennifer Lynas who remarked, “It doesn’t make that much difference to me, I think it’s a good idea, they should bring back carboard boxes for shopping, you could have used them over and over again.”
Geraldine Rice admitted that it was the introduction of this levy that encouraged her to start using re-usable bags. she stated, “I have only started using the bags this week, I’ve had them in the house but never remembered to bring them with me them before. The charge is dear enough, doing a weekly shop takes six to seven bags and it soon adds up”.
Others were keen to highlight the positive impact they expect this levy will have on street cleanliness with many people, including Deborah McCullen and Betty Lennon noting, “It should reduce the amount of bags blowing around the streets.”
One man passing through Lurgan, from the Republic of Ireland, noted the positive impact the bag tax has had on the countryside in the south.
He said, “Coming from a farm and having to deal with plastic bags getting caught up in animals’ mouths, the introduction of the levy at home was wonderful, people use less plastic bags and it has fairly cleared up the countryside.”
However, despite these positive reactions there are others who are less than happy at the introduction of this levy.
One woman branded it, “ridiculous” noting that the bags are, “not worth 5p, they’re far too flimsy.” Another disgruntled member of the public declared, “With 250 million bags used in Northern Ireland each year, as good as this tax may be for the environment, a large reduction in the use of plastic bags will mean someone will be out a job.”
Indeed, with the introduction of this tax in the Republic, a massive reduction in the use of plastic bags was noted, consumption fell from, on average, 340 bags, per person, per year, to just 30. However, retailers began reporting a sharp rise in the sale of bin liners as people stopped using plastic shopping bags in their pedal bins and turned to less expensive alternatives.
Retailers are also concerned that the introduction of this levy will do little more than place an unnecessary burden on them. Northern Ireland Independant Retail Trade Association Chief Executive, Glyn Roberts declared, “The NIIRTA is concerned that the collecting and administration of the levy may pose a real burden on our members and we will be closely monitoring this over the next few months.
“We believe that this is the wrong stealth tax at the wrong time. This will add to the burden of hard working families who will have to pay for this.”
He concluded, “A better course of action would have been to encourage and educate consumers to reuse and recycle carrier bags as many of our members were doing, rather than slapping a tax on them.”
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