The proposed increase in the carrier bag tax is harsh, yet deterrence is a key way to curb litter

News Letter editorial of Wednesday October 10 2021:

By Editorial
Wednesday, 10th November 2021, 10:15 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th November 2021, 10:19 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The five-fold increase in carrier bag charge in Northern Ireland is a dramatic one that has already gone down badly with representatives of retailers.

The rise from 5p to 25p, which was announced by the environment minister Edwin Poots yesterday, was branded “absolutely excessive” by Glyn Roberts of Retail NI.

This is was a tricky decision for Mr Poots. The carrier bag tax has been a notable success overall, and has — according to the government – removed 1.7 billion bags from circulation.

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But as anyone who has stood in a queue at a petrol station will know, the current levy is small enough for many people to continue to accept new plastic bags with each of their purchases, without much thought.

In supermarkets, however, many of the heavy duty plastic bags that are being charged at more than the 5p levy are not being reused and are ending up as serious pollution — bags that are made for re-use but are just heavy duty plastic litter.

The logical policy aim therefore is to increase the incentive for people to make an effort to reuse and bring bags to shops.

A society’s approach to litter is telling — in Germany, for example, littering is much rarer than in many other countries not because of fines or levies or environmental activism, but because there is a culture, instilled from childhood, against thoughtlessly dropping plastics and other waste.

Northern Ireland is not so disciplined, and our beautiful countryside at times is marred by litter. Single-use plastics are not just unsightly but a problem for widlife and the seas, as documentaries by David Attenborough have vividly shown.

Mr Roberts fears that the carrier bag charge will hit hard-working families. That is a worry when there are many financial pressures as the economy emerges from lockdown. But deterrence will be key to ending the throwaway culture.

Stormont will be able to monitor the impact of this steep increase in the cost of carrier bags, and assess whether it is causing more harm than it prevents.

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