Chewing gum and fast food levy 'will bankroll clean-up'
CONSUMERS are to be hit with a levy for buying chewing gum and fast food, under a new 'green tax' being planned by the Government.
The green levy will be used to bankroll the clean-up of the two main sources of litter countrywide, the Irish Independent has learned.
A voluntary agreement between the Government and Wrigley's gummakers worth €2m a year (spent on a range of awareness-raising campaigns) for three years, is already in force.
However, not a single cent of the money is being used to pay for gum removal, which costs local authorities millions of euro every year.
Last night, Environment Minister John Gormley pledged to introduce a levy on every packet of chewing gum and on fast food products, as the voluntary agreement was not working to his satisfaction.
Work would begin immediately on the levy even though it can only be brought in when the voluntary agreement with the gum manufacturers expires in 18 months time.
The minister warned the chewing gum and fast food industries that he would either force them to directly pay for the cost of clean-ups, a move already hotly opposed by the gum manufacturers, or impose a full-scale levy.
The levy was originally proposed by then environment minister Martin Cullen but binned by his successor Dick Roche.
Under Mr Gormley's watch, it would operate in a similar fashion to the successful plastic bag levy which removed an estimated one billion bags from circulation.
"A levy on chewing gum and fast food is back on the agenda without a doubt," Mr Gormley told the Irish Independent. "I've never been happy with voluntary agreements," he added.
The Programme for Government makes provision for fiscal measures to deal with the environment.
"I'm now committed to doing that.
"The plastic bag levy worked," he said. Mr Gormley said it was a simple choice of obliging the gum and fast food industries to pay for the cost of removing the litter or imposing a direct levy on the products.
Chewing gum manufacturers have voiced opposition to a direct payment for clean-ups.
This means that the only realistic option open to the new minister is to start drawing up plans for new environmental levies.
The Irish Business Against Litter (IBAL) organisation has been pushing hard for a levy on chewing gum and fast-food for some time now.
Mr Gormley also revealed that he will be asking his officials to prepare for the introduction of such levies as soon as the voluntary agreement runs out in 18 months time.
"We have to prepare for a levy now," he said.
An official report which was commissioned by the Department of the Environment warned of big difficulties with a voluntary agreement on litter.
Chewing gum and fast food packaging are among the biggest sources of litter in our cities, towns and villages, according to all official surveys on the matter.
The minister is also calling on local authorities to increase the number of prosecutions they bring for litter offences.
While there has been a seven-fold increase in litter fines since 1997 this has not been matched by a similar rise in prosecutions. for the offence.