Question No. 444

To ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the measures in place to monitor the implementation of the plastic bag levy in shops and supermarkets; if any steps have been taken to ensure that the plastic bags that are provided by the shops are durable in quality; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Anthony Lawlor.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 24th January, 2012.

Ref No: 3612/12 REPLY

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Mr. P. Hogan)

Primary responsibility in monitoring the implementation of the plastic bag levy in shops and supermarkets rests with the local authorities. This involves local authorities undertaking a range of actions to ensure compliance by retailers with their obligations in respect of the plastic bag levy, including –

· carrying out spot checks at retailers;

· ensuring that the levy is passed on in full to customers;

· ensuring that exemptions are not being abused;

· checking tills to confirm that customers are being charged the 22 cent levy for plastic bags where applicable;

· taking appropriate action where it has been established that the levy has not been charged to customers – such as issuing a letter informing the retailer of their obligations under the legislation and taking appropriate follow up action to ensure compliance where necessary;

· investigating complaints from the public in respect of failure by a retailer to charge the levy.

In relation to non-compliance discovered by a local authority enforcement officer, a warning letter is issued and a follow up inspection is carried out. If the retailer is still non-compliant, the next step would be for the local authority to pursue legal action. The Revenue Commissioners will also be contacted if it is suspected that the non-compliance has been ongoing, resulting in a significant amount of levy not having been collected.

Statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency on local authority enforcement activities indicate that approximately 800 plastic bag levy inspections were carried out in 2010.

The Revenue Commissioners are responsible for collection and recovery of the levy and for ensuring that businesses are aware of their obligation in relation to making returns. This involves a range of actions, including –

· identification of accountable persons;

· processing returns and payments received from accountable persons;

· carrying out verification checks relating to the accuracy of returns;

· pursuing accountable persons who fail to deliver returns and payments within the statutory time limits;

· raising estimates where returns are not received or where liability is understated;

· dealing with appeals against estimates raised.

Since its introduction on 4 March 2002, the plastic bag levy has been an outstanding success. It is designed to encourage people to make more environmentally friendly choices by using reusable bags. The levy applies to all bags made wholly or partly of plastic, regardless of durability, with the exception of the specific exemptions set out in the Waste Management (Environmental Levy) (Plastic Bag) Regulations 2001.

I have no plans to introduce measures in respect of the durability of plastic bags which are being provided by retailers. Ultimately it is a commercial decision for retailers to determine what, if any, form of plastic bag they wish to make available to their customers and a matter for the consumer to determine if, having regard to its durability or any other factor, they wish to purchase that bag. It is also a matter for the retailer to decide on any appropriate actions they may wish to take in response to customer feedback.