Retailers in the Irish Republic are discovering that the success of the recently introduced plastic bag levy has a downside ­ their wire shopping baskets have begun to disappear at an alarming rate. As the environmental levy of 15c cuts plastic bag usage at checkouts by 90%, the theft of baskets has soared, with more than 7,000 reported missing so far this year, double the figure for all of 2001. Some Tesco stores have been losing up to 20 baskets a week, despite displaying warning signs for customers. The thefts are also "a major problem" at Dunnes. Replacement cost for the multiples is E4.50 a basket. But independent grocers' body RGDATA claims it is faring worst of all, as "the average cost of the baskets to small retailers is E9 net of VAT each," according to director general Ailish Forde. The group's 4,500 members across the Irish Republic are losing an average of 50 baskets a month, adding an estimated E2m a month to the sector's costs. Forde is seeking an urgent meeting with new environment minister Martin Cullen to see how the department can assist retailers. RGDATA suggest part of the money raised from the levy should be used to offset retailer losses. {{NEWS }}