Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Minister vows more green measure

Northern Ireland has introduced a five pence minimum tax on single-use carrier bags

The introduction of a carrier bag tax in Northern Ireland will be followed with a wave of further eco-friendly policies, ultimately making the region a world leader in environmental protection, a Stormont minister has pledged.

After overseeing the implementation of the minimum five pence levy on single use shopping bags, Alex Attwood said a potential ban on food waste going to landfill and a law requiring 60% of all waste to be recycled were next on his agenda.

The Environment Minister, who has predicted the bag charge could reduce the 250 million bags used in Northern Ireland each year by more than 90%, said he was also committed to developing renewable electricity production, insisting that the region could eventually become entirely energy self-sufficient.

He said the bag levy was not a "one trick pony".

"We can be a leader in world emissions (reduction), we can have renewables as our biggest industry, we can have single use carrier bags as demonstrating our authority on the green agenda," he said.

The tax applies to all single use bags including plastic, paper and other natural materials. There are exemptions for takeaway hot food and drinks, prescriptions, unpackaged food and uncooked meat to protect safety and hygiene.

Northern Ireland is the second part of the UK to impose the measure after Wales, and follows the example of the Republic of Ireland more than a decade ago. Money raised will fund voluntary and community groups working on sustainability projects.

"Each and every one of us around here uses 130 single use carrier bags every year - 250 million a year for a population of 1.8 million," said Mr Attwood.

"It is a startling and scary fact and figure and I think that's why the public appetite is so strong for this proposal. Our ambition has to be at least, if not more, what's been achieved in the south (of Ireland) - reduction of 90% over the last 11 years in plastic bags there. I think we can achieve that here."

Mr Attwood said he would be bringing forward plans for a possible ban on food waste going to landfill. He said district councils had made progress in increasing recycling levels for domestic and municipal waste from 6-7% to around 38%. But the minister insisted more could be done and said he was examining a potential legally binding recycling rate of 60%.

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