and Styrofoam Ban
In 2002, Ireland became the first country to enforce a plastic bag tax. This 15 cent fee (equivalent to 24 cents in the U.S.) was initiated in response to the country's annual consumption of 1.2 billion shopping bags and growing plastic pollution problem. The “plastax” also offered the benefit of eliminating one of the country’s biggest imports since only 21% of plastic bags were manufactured domestically.
The plastax had an immediate effect on consumer behavior and within the first few weeks, plastic carrier bag consumption fell by 94%, decreasing Ireland’s annual consumption by about 1 billion bags. Within the first year, $9.6 million was raised from the plastax and this went to Ireland’s Green Fund used to finance other environmental issues.
Despite its apparent success, Ireland’s plastax came with several unforeseen externalities, such as an increased crime rate and use of paper, garbage, and vegetable bag alternatives. Since the plastax was introduced in 2002, plastic bag purchases increased 400% and paper bag usage also skyrocketed, which is harmful to the environment because it requires more energy to produce and creates twice the level of air pollution as plastic bags. Moreover, economic benefits from the tax have yet to be seen: residual funds generated from the 10% of people willing to pay the tax falls short of the cost of administering and enforcing the tax. In addition, the change in tonnage of imported and locally produced plastic bags remains statistically insignificant.
Figures released in February 2009 by Waste & Resources Action Programme (WARP) indicate that the U.K. exceeded expected reductions in plastic carrier bag usage over the past two years. In an effort to minimize the environmental impact of carrier bags, U.K. governments and 21 leading retailers developed a voluntary program to reduce the amount of plastic bags distributed by 25%. This program was designed to encourage businesses and consumers to be more efficient in material usage and to promote recycling efforts in order to reduce landfill space, reduce carbon emissions, and minimize damage to the environment.
Since the program launched in 2006, retailers have reduced the amount of virgin plastic and increase recycled content used to manufacture carrier bags. In addition, many retailers created incentive programs to reward customers who brought their own bags. These combined efforts ultimately achieved a 40% reduction in the environmental impact of carrier bags and the number of carrier bags in circulation fell from 13.4 billion in 2006 to 9.9 billion in 2008.
A case study of superstore ASDA reveals that educational outreaches through TV advertisements, signs, magazines, bulletin briefings, and rewards programs are highly effective in drawing customer awareness to the value of recycling programs and bringing their own reusable bags. Since the ‘Bag for Life’ program was created in June 2008, sales of reusable bags rose 1200%, over 250 tons of plastic bags were collected for recycling, and carrier bag use fell by over half a billion bags.
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