The Plastic Bag Levy (Ireland)

In March 2002, the Irish Government introduced a 15 cent levy on plastic shopping bags that were previously provided free of charge to customers at points of sale (Convery et al 2007). This was introduced under 2001 Waste Management Act. The key objective of the levy was to reduce the amount of plastic bag litter. Prior to introduction of the levy, plastic bags constituted 5% of the national litter composition (Litter Monitoring Body, 2003). In 2007 the plastic litter represented <1% of the national litter composition. A report published in 2008 stated that ‘the available evidence indicates a significant and broadly sustained decline in plastic bag litter since the levy was introduced’ (AP EnvEcon Limited 2008). There was also a dramatic reduction in the per capita usage of plastic bags (from 37 bags per person per year to 22-24) and the generation of revenue for the Environment Fund (circa €110 million from 2002 to 2007).


Place / Location Ireland
Commencement Date March 2002
Duration Ongoing
Theme Prevention
Type of Initiative Policy/Regulation Implementation, Economic and Market Based Instruments
Initiated by Irish Government
Involved Stakeholders The Department of the Environment, Heritageand Local Government;  The Litter Monitoring Body,TOBIN Consulting Engineers; An Taisce (The National Trust)
Funding/Financial Support No
Success Rate Very Successful
Case Study prepared by Tom Doyle, CMRC, University College Cork
Submitted by

Tom Doyle, CMRC, University College Cork

MARLISCO Partner 9

What is at Stake?

In the 1990s there was a clear awareness of the environmental impact of plastic shopping bags. Therefore, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government commissioned a Consultancy Study in 1998. The aim of the study was to identify and assess possible fiscal, regulatory or other measures that might be undertaken to minimise the use of and environmental impact of plastic shopping bags. The study found that ‘a levy was the most appropriate and effective means of minimising plastic bag consumption’. Then, in 2002 (March), the government introduced a levy of €0.15 per plastic bag provided to shoppers at the point of sale in retail outlets. The Levy was designed to change consumer behaviour, to give ‘pause for thought’ & to encourage reusable bags.

What is the Scale of the Problem?

The problem was that there was a clear awareness of the environmental impact of plastic shopping bags. They were very visible in the Irish landscape, especially during the winter months when there are no leaves on the trees and hedgerows.

Project/ Activity Results:

One of the key findings of the plastic bag levy was that there was a considerable fall in the consumption of plastic bags since March 2002. The reduction has been estimated as 90%. Furthermore, results from beach surveys found that there was a reduction in the number of plastic bags found on beaches, from a mean high of 17.7per 500m (2000) to a mean of 5.5 bags per 500m (2002). (Data courtesy of Coastwatch Ireland.)

Success and Fail Factors and Lessons Learned:

Key lesson: the plastic bag levy proved to be an extremely popular tax and was broadly welcomed in Ireland. Although the levy was targeting terrestrial litter (plastic bags in trees), the simple fact that there was a major in the consumption of plastic bags means that there are less plastic bags to enter the marine environment.

Additional Information on Finances:

The total costs of the implementation of the levy were very modest. For example, €1.2 million was spent on one-off costs (purchase of new computer systems and additional resources needed to administer the levy). An additional annual cost in the order of €350,000 goes on administration and a further € 358,000 went on publicity for promoting the plastic bag levy.

Assessment of Project/ Activity Sustainability:

Fully sustainable. For example since the introduction of the levy over €196 million revenue has been collected. Importantly, this money is ring-fenced for an Environmental FUND to support Anti-Litter Initiatives, Environmental Protection Agency R&D, Initiatives undertaken by community groups and others for protection of the environment (e.g. Coastwatch, An Taisce) and to run any additional costs for maintaining the levy.

Available documentation and further information

AP EnvEcon Limited 2008 Report:,21599,en.pdf