Plastic Bag Levy

Plastic Bag Levy Increase

Since its introduction on 4th March 2002, the plastic bag levy had an immediate effect on consumer behaviour with plastic bag per capita usage decreasing overnight from an estimated 328 bags to 21.  The current plastic bag levy is 22c.

Background to the Plastic bag Levy

Plastic bag consumption increased alarmingly in Ireland in the 1990s.  Retail outlets placed no limits on the amount of bags consumers could use when doing their shopping.  One of the most significant side effects of this trend was the careless disposal of plastic bags by consumers after use – a significant proportion of which ended up as highly visible because of the volumes being carelessly disposed, they also became highly persistent pollutants in urban, rural and coastal settings.  This trend was also undermining Ireland’s clean, green image on which the Irish tourism industry depends.

The primary purpose of the plastic bag levy is to reduce the consumption of disposable plastic bags by influencing consumer behaviour.  Since its introduction on the 4th March 2002, the levy has been an outstanding success.

Prior to the introduction of the levy, it is estimated that over 1.2 billion plastic bags were dispensed free of charge at retail outlets annually, equating to roughly 328 bags per inhabitant per year.

The fall in the consumption of plastic bags has been considerable with the reduction being estimated at over 90%.  Our environment has also benefited – with a decrease in excess of 95% in plastic bag litter.  All levies are remitted into the Environmental Fund.

Biodegradable Bags

The levy on plastic shopping bags has a strong anti-litter emphasis.  The Regulations do not, therefore, distinguish between biodegradable plastic bags and other plastic bags.  Biodegradable bags still take a considerable time to degrade and, while their use may be preferable in a final treatment situation, such bags will continue to form a visible nuisance for a significant period of time where discarded as litter.

Alternatives to Disposable Plastic Shopping Bags

Alternatives to disposable plastic shopping bags, such as reusable boxes, and reusable bags are now available in many shops.  The consumer has, by and large, changed to using these alternatives.  In the grocery sector disposable plastic bags have largely been replaced by reusable ‘long life’ shopping bags.

Plastic shopping bags designed for re-use are exempt from the levy provided that the retailer charges at least 70 cent for the bag.

Retailer Obligations

Is the levy to be charged on all types of plastic bags?

Yes – except where otherwise stated in the Regulations.
Broadly the exclusions cover:

  • shopping bags designed for re-use which are sold for 70 cents or more, and bags used to contain:-
    • fresh meat, fish or poultry (whether packaged or otherwise),
    • loose fruit and vegetables, nuts, confectionary, dairy products and hot or cold cooked food that are not otherwise packaged and ice. 

provided they do not exceed 225mm in width (exclusive of any gussets), by 345mm in depth (inclusive of any gussets), by 450mm in length, (inclusive of any handles).

If other products are placed in these bags, then the retailer must charge the levy to the customer.

It is the responsibility of the retailer to ensure that he or she obtains the full specifications of bags from suppliers, with regard to the dimensions of all bags for the conveyance of foodstuffs if exemptions are to apply, before deciding to purchase or acquire them.

Plastic bags used to contain goods or products sold on board an aircraft or ship and in an area of a port or airport to which intending passengers are denied access unless in possession of a valid ticket or boarding card, are also excluded from the levy.

For further information on retailer obligations, please click on the following file.

Plastic Bag Levy Retailers Obligations (PDF) - 26 kbs

Environment Fund

The Waste Management (Amendment) act, 2001 provides for the establishment of an Environment Fund, to be managed and controlled by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.  Revenues from the levies on plastic shopping bags and the landfill levies of waste are paid into the Fund which may be utilised for a range of purposes.  These include assistance in the following areas: 

  • Schemes to prevent/reduce waste
  • Waste recovery activities
  • Research and development into waste management
  • Production, distribution or sale of products deemed to be less harmful to the environment than other similar products
  • Development of producer initiatives to prevent/reduce waste arising from their activities
  • Implementation of waste management plans
  • Enforcement of the provisions of any enactment relating to waste management, prevention of litter or protection of the environment.
  • Partnership projects that involve local authorities, to improve the quality of the environment for particular local communities
  • Promotion of awareness of the need to protect the environment, including national and regional campaigns
  • Promotion/support of education and training to assist achievement of campaign objectives
  • Resources (human or material)  to enable education and training to be carried out
  • Initiatives undertaken by community groups and others for protection of the environment
  • Such other purposes for protection of the environment as may be prescribed by the Minister in regulations.