SHOPPERS face the prospect of being forced to pay up to 70 cent for a plastic bag under new measures announced yesterday.
Environment Minister John Gormley has proposed a three-fold increase in the plastic bag tax in an effort to reduce the use of the bags, which currently cost 22 cent each.
And the 'Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011', published yesterday, also includes hefty fines for coal merchants.
A €1,000 fine will be levied on anyone marketing, selling or distributing bituminous coal in areas where it is banned -- including Dublin, Cork, Arklow, Drogheda, Dundalk, Limerick Wexford, Celbridge, Galway, Waterford, Kilkenny, Sligo and Tralee.
The plastic bag levy was introduced in March 2002 and forced shoppers to pay 15 cent for every bag used. At the time, average use per person was 328 bags a year.
The levy was increased in 2007 to 22 cent per bag, and last year the average number of bags used per person was 24.
The money gathered in the tax is paid into the Environment Fund, which is used to fund recycling centres, waste reduction schemes and research into waste management.
In 2008, some €26.6m was paid into the fund meaning that shoppers bought more than 121 million bags.
The Consumers Association of Ireland said the 70 cent charge would encourage people to bring a bag with them.
"There are two sides to it -- 70 cent is a lot but the benefits of the tax have been fantastic," chief executive Dermott Jewell said.
"The fund that builds up for that is not wasted, it goes back to initiatives that benefit the payer of that tax. Few people in the current environment would cheer that rate (70 cent), but fewer people buy them and those who do would make sure they don't do it again. The harder you hit, the quicker you remember not to do it again."
The Bill also introduces a new power to charge a waste levy on incinerators -- including the controversial Poolbeg waste to energy plant which Mr Gormley opposes.
It amends the Waste Management Acts to increase the levy charged to use landfill from €30 per tonne at present to up to €120.