Bag tax central to Irish packaging waste success story

The Irish authorities are confident of meeting the latest EU targets set for packaging waste and part of the credit is owed to the introduction of the national tax on plastic bags.

The Plastic Bags Levy, which charges consumers for every disposable bag they use on their shopping trips, has made many members of the public rethink their position on waste.

This culture change has made huge inroads into waste reduction that reach far beyond the bags themselves.

New targets for the recovery a recycling of packaging waste were announced on Monday, February 27.

“Packaging waste recycling is an Irish environmental success story”, said Environment Minister Dick Roche.

“Ireland had a target of 25% for the recovery of packaging waste in 2001 and we met it. Our target for 2005 was 50% and the recent National Waste Report 2004 from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that we exceeded that target a year ahead of schedule.

“Now we have a new target for 2011, 60%, and I am convinced that if we continue to work hard and build on the partnership approach – involving Repak, industry, local authorities and waste operators – that has served us so well to date, this success story can continue”.

As well as the new targets by volume, there are also new materials-specific targets which are expected to prove particularly challenging for Ireland.

The EU directive has now been transposed into Irish law but Mr Roche stressed this was a single piece in the jigsaw.

“This is just one element, albeit an important one, in improving the regime for packaging waste recovery in Ireland,” he said.

“A National Strategy Group on Packaging Waste Recycling was established in October 2004 to develop a strategy to achieve the 2011 packaging waste recovery / recycling targets.

“Consultations with stakeholders on further proposed changes are continuing to the packaging waste regulatory regime and when they are concluded, I will consider bringing forward further changes to the Packaging Regulations later this year.”

The directive also amends the definition of packaging and includes some examples to illustrate the amendments being made, including clarification that plastic or paper carrier bags are packaging under the terms of the directive. Since its introduction in 2002 the Irish bag tax has brought in revenues totalling ¬55m to the Environment Fund, monies which are used to fund environmental projects such as “bring banks” and new civic amenity sites which are proving immensely popular with the public and are contributing to our much improved recycling performance.

Mr Roche went on to say that he was keen to see the plastic bag regulations rigorously enforced and has ordered a blitz of retailers suspected of ignoring the tax.

“From representations I have received there would appear to be some anecdotal evidence of slippage in application of the levy.

“I have asked my Department to write to local authorities asking them to carry out inspections of retail outlets with a view to improving current practices in relation to the implementation of the Plastic Bag Levy Regulations”.

by Sam Bond

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