The Irish bag tax

We’ve talked about recycling and voluntary reduction as a way of dealing with the plastic bag problem. Here’s another approach, taken by Ireland, which has been very successful.

There is something missing from this otherwise typical bustling cityscape. There are taxis and buses. There are hip bars and pollution. But there are no plastic shopping bags, the ubiquitous symbol of urban life.

In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them for their purchases must now pay 22 cents per bag at the register.

Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.


Efforts to tax plastic bags have failed in many places because of heated opposition from manufacturers. In Britain, Los Angeles and San Francisco, proposed taxes failed to gain political approval, though San Francisco passed a ban last year.

Today, Ireland’s retailers are great promoters of taxing the bags. “I spent many months arguing against this tax with the minister; I thought customers wouldn’t accept it,” said Sen. Feargal Quinn, founder of Ireland’s largest homegrown chain of supermarkets. “But I have become a big, big enthusiast.”

Hard to argue with that kind of result. I think as the use of plastic bags becomes increasingly frowned upon, it’s inevitable that the same kind of tax will be passed here somewhere, and then once that happens, it’ll spread the same way anti-smoking laws have done.

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