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UK in 'chaos' over plastic bag levy. What's all the fuss about? We did that 13 years ago...

The year of Saipan and Nadine Coyle forgetting her age we began paying for our plastic bags.

THE YEAR 2002 was a big one for Ireland.

There was the World Cup Saipan debacle, a general election, Enda Kenny became the leader of Fine Gael and of course, there was this.


It was also the year that we brought in the plastic bag levy.

Today, some 13 years after we introduced it, the UK is following suit. 

Newspapers across the water described it as “chaos”. Yes, chaos.

Well-known faces are saying they won’t be getting behind the initiative:

The 4 March 2002 was our D-Day.

The levy was introduced under the former Fianna Fáil Environment Minister Noel Dempsey.

In fact, Ireland was a trailblazer in terms of this slam dunk for the environment, being the first country in the world to introduce such a measure.

The levy resulted in a decrease of over 90% in the number of plastic bags in circulation in the country and encouraged supermarkets to switch to more sustainable bags.

So, was it “chaos” for us too? We decided to have a look back.

plastic bag 2 Screengrab from the advert used to mark the day the plastic bag levy would come into play.

Ireland began charging 15 cent per plastic bag in 2002.

In an RTÉ News report by Paul Cunningham from Meath Street in Dublin that day, there were mixed reviews from punters. One shopper described the charge as “robbery” while another described it as a good initiative that would help the environment.

At the time, Ireland was using up to 1.2 billion plastic bags every year.

plastic bag 3 Reeling in the Years / YouTube Reeling in the Years / YouTube / YouTube

Just like the countries to follow in our footsteps, there were fears that stamping out plastic bag use would result in job losses. In 2002, there were fears that 200 jobs would be lost, however, the business group Ibec supported the initiative stating the levy was better in the long-run.

The levy had an immediate effect on consumer behaviour with an estimated decrease in plastic bag usage from 328 bags per capita to 21 bags per capita overnight. In the first four months, it hauled in more than €9 million for the Exchequer.

The scheme was hailed a success by the Department of the Environment and on 1 July 2007, the government increased the levy from 15c to 22c per bag.

This saw the yield jump from just under €20 million in 2006 to €26.7 million in 2008 which is still the highest amount taken in a single year since the levy’s introduction.

Tesco unveil bumper profits PA ARCHIVE IMAGES PA ARCHIVE IMAGES

While there was some opponents to the increase, the charge has stuck, despite it being earmarked to double in 2009.

Not only did it result in a fall-off of plastic bag use, but it also brought in a lot of revenue for the Environment Fund. Monies from this fund are used for waste management and reduction.

Tesco unveil bumper profits PA ARCHIVE IMAGES PA ARCHIVE IMAGES

So, how much money has it really raised since its introduction? Quite a lot actually.

Figures from the Department of the Environment released in 2013 show that the 22 cent levy raised €203.4 million in the first 11 years.

This figure increased to over 210 million when 2012 and 2013 figures are added. The totals for 2014 have yet to be released.

Over the years, other countries have used Ireland as a model of proof to promote the idea of charging for plastic bags.

Wales introduced a 5p charge in 2011, Northern Ireland followed suit in 2013, and California introduced it last year.

So, a message to our near neighbours today: Calm down, soon you won’t know any different – except you’ll have a drawer full of sustainable bags, that you continue to forget on every single trip to the shops.

Read: Irish Water says it has saved enough water for everyone in Kerry>

Read: Renua’s radical plan to abolish loads of taxes and the TV licence>

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