Charging for bags came into force in Northern Ireland today as the environment minister pledged to dramatically cut the number used.
The five pence minimum tax per single use carrier will improve the region's green credentials and help reduce pollution, Alex Attwood said.
Northern Ireland is the second part of the UK to impose the measure after Wales and follows the example of the Republic of Ireland a decade ago.
Money raised will fund voluntary and community groups working on sustainability projects but small businesses have expressed concern about red tape.
Mr Attwood said: "As environment minister I want us to implement bold challenging new laws to enhance our clean and green credentials. The levy will help to do that."
People in Northern Ireland use 250 million bags a year, 140 per person. The tax will apply to all single use bags including plastic, paper and other natural materials. There will exemptions for takeaway hot food and drinks, prescriptions, unpackaged food and uncooked meat to protect safety and hygiene.
The Stormont minister is considering using the money to help communities and businesses improve the environment.
Possible measures include:
- Creating a river restoration fund to allow local communities to improve water quality.
- Launching a sustainability innovation fund to support groups which want to pioneer initiatives which could generate real environmental change and produce economic and social benefits.
- Increasing grants from the community challenge fund to deliver local environmental efforts through not-for-profit organisations.
- Boosting sums from the natural heritage fund to encourage conservation of the environment and raise grants to prevent waste and increase recycling.
Mr Attwood said people in Northern Ireland used 30,000 carrier bags an hour.
"This levy is intended to help protect the environment by dramatically cutting the number of bags used," he said.
"Working with the retail sector we are aiming for a reduction of at least 80%. Some retailers have already indicated that they will be eliminating single use bags altogether."
He predicted shoppers would 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," he added.
The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) expressed major concerns.
Chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "NIIRTA shares Minister Attwood's objective of reducing the amount of carrier bags in circulation and that end up in landfill sites.
"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."
The Westminster Government has been urged by a backbencher to follow the example of Wales and Ireland and charge for the use of plastic bags in England. However, some MPs believe a voluntary effort to cut waste would be more effective.
The Scottish Government has consulted on the issue.