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Big fall in use of bags, but retailers to resist new levy

By Amanda Ferguson

Business owners have called for plans for a levy on reusable carrier bags to be scrapped.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said a 5p charge on bags sold for less than 20p would undermine the Department of Environment’s green objectives.

The association made the plea as a report showed purchases of single use carrier bags had fallen 71.8% here since the introduction of the 5p levy last year.

That equates to 250 million fewer bags littering streets, Stormont Environment Minister Mark H Durkan claimed.

Mr Durkan said the £4.17m raised by the levy was spent on environment projects across Northern Ireland.

He added: “The response from shoppers has been very positive, and retailers have also risen to the challenge. The result has been a very significant reduction in single use carrier bags.

“During the past year, I have ensured that money from the levy has gone back into the community through environmental projects. I have visited many of these projects and have been inspired by the great work being done.

“I am delighted to announce that £2.5m of this year’s levy receipts will be available to support community projects. The community pays the levy and I will ensure that the community gets the benefit of the levy.”

NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts welcomed the 71.8% decrease in single use bag sales, but he called for the DoE to scrap plans for an extra charge on reusable bags because it could “undermine the environmental objectives of the levy”.

“We are also concerned about reports from our members that basket sales and impulse-buying have been reduced following the introduction of the levy,” Mr Roberts added.

“Since our members have worked hard to administer and collect this levy, and given that retailers in other parts of the UK have a big say in how it is spent, we would call upon minister Durkan to do more to consult local retailers.

“Ideally, we would prefer that the proceeds of the levy are used to fund sustainable town centre regeneration projects.”

TUV leader Jim Allister, meanwhile, poured scorn on the idea that the charge had led to a reduction in use of plastic bags.

“What has actually been measured is the number of single use carrier bags, which includes bags made out of biodegradable substances like paper,” he said.

“The mischief to which the bag tax was supposed to be addressed is the pollution of plastic bags.

“In my constituency, jobs have been lost among suppliers and in Bangor a supply company collapsed in consequence of the tax.

“Last year, I tabled amendments designed to exclude biodegradable bags from the ambit of the legislation as, unlike plastic bags, they cause no long-term damage to the environment.

“They deserve to be treated differently and shoppers afforded the right to accept from retailers paper bags in which to carry their purchases.

“Sadly, due to the opposition of Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and the UUP to the amendment, it failed to be carried when debated in the Assembly.”

Factfile

Single use carrier bags dispensed and levy revenue from April 2013 to March 2014:

Quarter 1: 19,413,991 given out, raising £967,087.73

Quarter 2: 21,627,272 sold, raising £1,072,435.69

Quarter 3: 24,004,619 sold, raising £1,177,718.58

Quarter 4: 19,486,003 dispensed, raising £951,188.31

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