Dennis Deery

Public Policy CAN Change Behavior

June 26, 2007

One of the things we had to adjust to when we moved to Ireland was taking our own cloth shopping bags to the grocery store. Why? Well, Ireland levies a €0.15 tax on plastic grocery bags, so every time we forgot to take our own (a lot, at first), we had to spend 30 or 45 cents to buy plastic bags. We’ve since gotten in the habit, and so no longer have to buy plastic bags, and thus no longer consume more scarce natural resources for both making the bags and then disposing of them. We take our cloth bags, purchased for €1 each. It’s a simple thing, but something we gave little thought to while living in the States.

The plastic bag levy is in the news these days because as of July 1 the tax increases to €0.22. Per capita usage of bags has been on the increase lately, and the levy increase is an attempt to bring consumption levels back down. But what impact did the initial levy have on consumer behavior? Prior to the levy, it’s estimated that per-capita usage of bags was 328. The level was reduced to 21 shortly after the levy, a drop in consumption of 90%! The level has risen back to 30 bags per capita last year, thus the levy increase.

This is such a simple little thing. Why don’t we all use cloth, reusable bags? We should - it would save the environment, cut down on store expenses. A small decision with literally no downside. Most of us don’t do it. And yet, a 15-cent charge was all it took to create a massive behavior change, nationwide. Brilliant.

Plastic Bag Levy Increase at An Irish Town Planner’s Blog

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