Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Green Memo: Ireland Has Reduced the Use of Single-Use Plastic Carrier Bags By 94 Percent With Bag-Fee Law; Has Exceeded EU Recycling Targets

A spokesman for the government of Ireland tells Natural~Specialty Foods Memo (NSFM) its statistics show that since the Emerald Island put a per-bag fee on single-use plastic carrier bags in 2002, there has been a whopping 94% reduction in the use of the thin grocery and shopping bags in the country.

In 2002, Ireland passed a law which required supermarkets and other retail stores to charge shoppers a per-bag fee if they requested their purchases be packaged in a single-use plastic carrier bag rather than a paper or reusable carrier bag. Before the law was passed, single-use plastic carrier bags were given to shoppers for free in Ireland, as is still the case in many if not most country's of the world.

This data should be of particular interest to nation's like the UK, of which Ireland is a part, which are currently debating in Parliament as to if it should pass an outright ban on the single-use plastic carrier bags, and if so whether at all retail stores or just supermarkets, or if it should levy a per-bag fee scheme like the Irish have.

The data should also be of interest in California, where as we reported here on Friday April 11 and again on April 14, the California State Assembly Natural Resource Committee is considering two bills that would levy either a 25 cent or 15 cent fee per-single-use carrier bags in the state's larger supermarkets and drug stores.

And of course, the Irish example should be of interest everywhere in the world because nation's and local governments globally are in the process, and many already have done so, of voting on or proposing single-use plastic carrier bags laws of one sort or another.

The Irish example also should be noted by grocery retailers who either are completely against such bans or are debating whether to support state and local government bag fees over outright single-use plastic carrier bag bans.

National, state, provincial and municipal governments all over the world have proposed laws either banning the bags completely or adding a fee to them if requested by a shopper. Most experts believe it's just a matter of a couple years before most nation's have laws either charging for or banning the plastic bags.

Irish exceed EU packaged waste recycling targets by 14 percent

In addition to the dramatic reduction in the number of single-use plastic carrier bags, the Irish government and its citizens have also exceeded that European Union's (EU) target's for the recycling of packaged waste, such as food and grocery packaging and containers.

The government spokesperson told us the latest figures available show Ireland is recovering and recycling 64% of all its packaged waste, compared to a EU target of 50%.

This combination of the 94% reduction in the use of plastic carrier bags and the 64% packaged waste recovery and recycling rate makes Ireland arguably the biggest success story globally in both source-reduction and packaged waste recovery and recycling.

The government spokesperson told us Ireland doesn't plan on resting on it's laurels in either regard. It thinks it can decrease plastic carrier bag use to near 100% in the next couple years, as well as increasing the nation's packaged waste recycling rate even higher than the current 64%.

Other UK country's, along with states in the U.S. and elsewhere, should go to school on the Irish model as a way to increase both their recycling rates and use-reduction of the single-use carrier bags.

Grocery retailers should take note as well. Rather than fighting legislation to levy a per-bag fee on the single-use plastic grocery bags, they might want to take the advice of Ireland's grocers who agree in the main with the per-bag consumer surcharges, as well as with those grocers in Northern California's San Francisco Bay Area who we quoted in this piece last week.

We think the single-use plastic carrier bag industry might want to think about supporting some sort of per-bag fee scheme throughout the world as well, since more outright bans like those recently enacted in China, parts of Africa, in San Francisco and Oakland, California in the U.S. and other numerous other places throughout the globe, are coming fast and furiously.

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