N. Ireland proposes bag tax in 2013

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BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND (Feb. 7, 1:15 p.m. ET) — The Northern Ireland Executive has revealed plans to bring in a 5 pence tax on single-use plastic bags next year.

In making the announcement Environment Minister Alex Attwood described plastic carrier bags as the “scourge of the environment.”

The proposals now have to go before the full Northern Ireland assembly before they can become law.

If accepted by the assembly Attwood proposes to double up the levy to 10 pence in 2014. There will be no charge for multi-use bags in 2013, although they will cost 10 pence the following year.

Introducing the proposals Attwood said: “Evidence from other countries demonstrates that a bag levy is a simple and effective means to reduce substantially the negative environmental impact of carrier bag consumption.”

Attwood argued the proposed 10 pence levy on single use carrier bags and lower-cost reusable carrier bags could bring about “significant environmental improvement”.

“However I recognize that consumers will need time to change their behavior and adjust to bringing their own bags when they shop. I therefore propose to discount the charge to 5 pence in the first year, when the levy will only apply to single-use carrier bags. This will ensure a phased approach to charging.

“I am committed to making Northern Ireland a better place to live, work and invest and this will certainly contribute to that goal.

“One way to do that is to reduce the 160 million plastic bags that are used in Northern Ireland every year,” he added.

Attwood said 10 Northern Ireland civil service posts would be created to administer the scheme.

Following the introduction of a similar scheme in the Irish Republic the usage of plastic bags fell by 90 percent.

However the move has been opposed by some sectors of the business community.

Glynn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) told the BBC: “We are concerned that this is a tax on hard-pressed working families and will add to the burden of red tape, particularly for small shops who will become tax collectors for this new scheme.

“It’s unclear if it is intended to discourage plastic bag use or if it is a revenue raiser. It has to do one or the other - it can’t do both.”

A similar scheme was introduced in Wales in 2011.