Ireland's new tax on plastic bags, in force since March 4, has caused barely a ripple among consumers, but has left the remnants of the country's bag manufacturers in tatters.
Irish shoppers have accepted the 0.15 euro charge - about 13 U.S. cents per bag. But the fine has led several local bag producers to shut down.
The threat of a bag tax has hung over the Irish plastics packaging industry since it first was debated in 1998, and was blamed for the demise of Ennis, Ireland, polyethylene bag maker Paclene Ltd. in August 2000, with a loss of 60 jobs.
Another retail bag producer hit by the levy was EPI Ltd., a Gweedore company. The firm, formerly known as Europlast, produced 70 million bags annually, or 6 percent of Ireland's consumption, but was forced to close at the end of last year, eliminating 23 jobs. EPI exported almost half its bag production, but still relied heavily on the domestic market.
Imports also have taken a bite out of business. Today about 80 percent of retail bags consumed in the country each year are imported, according to Gerry Farrell, recently appointed director of Ireland's Dublin-based Plastics Industries Association.
He said about 200-250 people in Ireland are involved in firms that import plastic bags, and predicted that their jobs may be ``in trouble as well.''
The most likely victims of the new measure are smaller film converters dependent on the retail bag market for their main business. Ireland's bag makers face ``serious damage through no fault of their own,'' Farrell said.
He called the Irish plastic bag tax ``the last straw'' for the country's remaining retail bag converters, which have seen their numbers shrink considerably in recent years.
Some stores are using paper bags, and the sale of reusable shopping bags has grown rapidly since the levy was introduced, he said.
One store chain, ADM Londis, introduced a reusable ``Bag for Life'' back in 2000. Shoppers can buy the bag for 0.13 euro and, when it wears out, replace it free of charge. Londis also introduced a new woven polypropylene shopping bag, on sale for 1 euro, which is excluded from the levy.
Farrell said the tax, designed to reduce litter, is popular with the general public.