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DUBLIN, Ireland - The Irish government today began collecting a 13 cent environmental tax on plastic bags used in supermarkets, convenience stores and other shops, The Associated Press reports.
The tax is intended to encourage shoppers to use tougher reusable bags and cut down on Ireland's consumption of the throwaway variety.
The government said it hoped the new charge would generate $160 million a year to spend on Ireland's deteriorating environment, and that shoppers would turn to tougher bags or even return to traditional wicker baskets, according to the AP.
The Irish Times newspaper said the initiative "will go some way towards removing a scourge from Ireland," but said the country remains "one of the least tidy" in the 15-nation European Union.
Ireland's largest supermarket chain, the British-owned Tesco, welcomed the government bag tax. It estimated that its stores dispensed 220 million free plastic bags each year, and expected that the number would be cut 40 percent because of the new charge.
Tesco and Ireland's biggest domestically owned department chain, Dunnes Stores, introduced ranges of tougher permanent bags and paper bags costing from 26 cents to $1.10.
Owners of smaller shops, who aren't yet providing alternative bags, said customers might blame their businesses for the new charge rather than the government.
"I am afraid the consumer will believe that the retailer is taking the 15 cents, and that they are being ripped off," said Ailish Forde, chief executive of Ireland's independent federation of grocers.