When Is A Plastic Bag Not A Plastic Bag?

Author:Ms Nicola Dunleavy
Profession:Matheson Ormsby Prentice

In 2008, the Revenue Commissioners imposed a tax bill of €36.4 million on retail giant Dunnes Stores for four years of plastic bag levies for small bags to wrap meat, fish and vegetables.  Dunnes had not charged customers this tax over the past four years.  Dunnes challenged the imposition of this tax and the High Court upheld the Revenue's assessment.  The battle is poised to continue in the Supreme Court.

The plastic bag levy, currently 22 cent per bag, was introduced in 2002.  The levy applies to bags that (a) are wholly or partly made of plastic; (b) are suitable for use by a customer at the point of sale; and (c) do not fall within the exempt classes of bags.  For example, certain small plastic bags that are used to contain meat, fish, poultry, fruit, vegetables, sweets and that also meet size requirements are exempt.  The Revenue argued that Dunnes's 'pinch and pull' bags were bigger than the exempt bags.

Dunnes claimed that the levy only applies to bags supplied at the point of sale, i.e. the checkout.  The Revenue argued that this 'checkout' interpretation would mean that retailers could leave plastic bags at other locations around shops and thus escape the levy. 

The High Court noted that the purpose of the plastic bag levy was to reduce discarded...

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