Retail plastic bag consumption in Ireland is on the increase - despite the introduction of a controversial levy four years ago.

Smaller plastic bags used to carry fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables are exempt from the levy.

However, the use of the larger bags has increased from 70 million in 2002, when the charge was first levied, to 113 million last year. Over that period, the revenue raised by the charge grew from €7.1m to €17.5m a year.

Now, in a bid to reverse the trend, environment minister Dick Roche is planning to increase the 15 cent bag levy (equivalent to 10p), possibly even doubling it. He has also ordered a crackdown on retailers that have been ignoring the charge and providing ­customers with free plastic bags.

"I don&'t want to see plastic bag use creeping back in,&" said the minister. &"The law permits me to increase the levy and I am disposed to do that. I can only increase it to 19 cents under the law as it stands, and I will do that. But if necessary, I will seek parliamentary approval to go higher, and I will get it.&"

The minister also announced that an enforcement network of local authority officers had been established to ensure retailers were applying the levy. They would be carrying out frequent inspections, with defaulting retailers facing prosecution.

A government colleague, Senator John Dardis, called for a doubling of the levy to 30 cents and for &"a strong reminder&" to retailers of their obligations under the legislation.

"Some are not even asking shoppers if they want a bag any more - your goods are often bagged before you get a chance to state your preference,&" he claimed.

The levy, which has raised more than €55m so far, is collected by retailers, and goes to a ring-fenced environmental fund, to be spent on waste management, recycling and other green initiatives.
Anthony Garvey