Tax paper bags too NGO urges Irish Government

Once seen as a pioneer in tackling the environmental impact of disposable shopping bags, Ireland risks being left behind as other countries introduce more progressive measures to address the issue.

This was the message of Friends of the Irish Environment when it wrote to the government this week.

It pointed out that paper bags too have an environmental impact, in many ways worse than those of plastic bags.

The group quoted a Scottish life cycle analysis study, which shows the damaging effects of paper bags in their manufacture as well as in the waste stream.

Manufacturing paper bags increases water consumption, atmospheric acidification – which can have effects on human health, sensitive ecosystems, forest decline and acidification of lakes – and eutrophication of water bodies which can lead to growth of algae and depletion of oxygen.

In the USA where paper bags have long been the norm, a number of cities are legislating to make disposal bags of all kinds less attractive.

Washington DC has become the latest US city to impose a levy not only on plastic bags but on paper carrier bags as well. The US Capital city follows successful legislation in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco as more than 20 bag taxes have been proposed across American cities in the past year.

In an open letter to Environment Minister John Gormley, FIE argues that paper carrier bags should be included in any plastic bag levy

The group says that ‘need for the extension of the level is particularly acute as the successful plastic carrier bag levy is increasing the use of these damaging paper carrier bags. A paper bag weighs roughly six times more than plastic, is about four times more expensive and takes up to ten times more storage space. A higher incidence of double bagging of paper bags for strength as well as heavier paper bags is another result of the levy.

A spokesman noted that studies show that ‘a reusable bag used more than four times is the best environmental option – and it is one that does not increase the taxation burden on the consumer.’

Some of the new US levies incorporate encouragement for retailers that provide incentives for reusable bags and allow retailers to keep a small percentage themselves.

In Ireland, the funds are used for valuable environmental initiatives such as the recent surface cleanup of historic contamination on Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour.

FIE says that the Minister should re-examine the current levy to ensure that Ireland is making the best use of the environmental and economic opportunities in the light of what is happening elsewhere in the world.

Sam Bond

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