Northern Ireland introduces carrier bag levy

Introduction of 5p tax not just on plastic bags, set to double in 2014



8 April 2013

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Shoppers in Northern Ireland are to pay a 5p levy on carrier bags from today. Retailers and businesses must charge for each new single use carrier bag they supply to customers. Environment minister Alex Attwood has emphasised that this doesn’t just apply to plastic bags; it also covers ‘single use’ bags made from other natural materials, including biodegradable bags.

Minister Attwood said "The levy, a first for Northern Ireland, will apply to the majority of new single use carrier bags, regardless of the material from which the bag is made. It is not just on plastic bags, but other single use bags from other natural materials." However, there are some exceptions to the charge. Customers will not be charged for the bag on the grounds of hygiene and food safety and when a bag is essential to protect goods or consumers, for example when taking away hot food or beverages.

The tax is set to double next year. The Republic has had a charge for plastic bags for almost 10 years while Wales also has a carrier bag tax.

People in Northern Ireland use 30,000 carrier bags every hour, and Minister Attwood is hoping for an 80% reduction.

He said: "I believe we can quickly adjust to the levy. People tell me they are concerned about climate change and want to find ways to make personal, family and local contributions to addressing the threat. The levy is precisely this. Shoppers can completely avoid paying the levy by bringing their own bags when shopping. Whether it’s a ‘bag for life’, a canvas bag, or just an ordinary plastic carrier bag, it all helps the environment by using less raw materials, reducing carbon emissions and reducing air and water pollution. This is what the levy is all about."

The revenue raised from the plastic bag tax will fund voluntary and community groups working on sustainability projects. Environment groups say the levy does not go far enough, while small businesses fear it could have a negative impact on them. Glyn Roberts, from the NI Independent Retail Trade Association, said they agree that the number of carrier bags in circulation should be reduced, but also expressed concern about the red tape involved.

He said: "We believe that sensible changes to the scheme, such as capping it at 5p, letting retailers distribute the levy proceeds to local charities as is the case in Wales and dropping some of the ridiculously high fines should be made. NIIRTA is concerned that the collecting and administration of the levy may pose a real burden on our members and we will be closely monitoring this over the next few months."



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