199m fewer plastic bags in circulation since introduction of 5p charge in NI
Over 100 million plastic bags were dispensed by retailers across the province last year, new figures have revealed.
A report by the Northern Ireland Research and Statistical Agency (NISRA) also shows that the number of carrier bags in circulation has fallen by 199 million since the introduction of the levy.
In total 101.2 million bags were handed out in the 12 months between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016, according to the data from NISRA.
The number of plastic bags dispensed in 2015/16 is still markedly lower than the baseline figure prior to the introduction of the levy in April 2013, which was estimated at 300 million bags in 2012.
The proceeds of the levy for 2015/16 totalled £5.2m, an increase of £500,000 (10.8%) from the previous year.
Environment Minister Michelle McIlveen welcomed the latest figures and said people have "embraced the reuse and recycling of shopping bags".
The levy was applied to all carrier bags costing less than 20p from January 2015, where previously it was limited to single-use bags.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said 300 million bags were dispensed in 2012.
"It is encouraging that so many carrier bags have been taken out of circulation since the introduction of the levy," Ms McIlveen said.
Money raised from the scheme has been put towards environmental projects.
The department said nearly £1.8m was allocated through the Natural Heritage Fund, while £400,000 has been used to combat illegal waste dumping.
"A small change in behaviour at the cash registers contributes hugely to enhancing and further protecting the environment and public space that we all share," added the minister.
"I commend everyone involved in this collective effort - both shopkeepers and consumers.
"I also remind everyone to be mindful of unnecessary waste, and continue to reduce what we throw away."
Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan has welcomed the substantial impact of the carrier bag levy on consumer habits and the environment.
"The carrier bag levy is an example of how government intervention can change consumer habits in a very minor way but with a very substantial impact," he said.
"Today there are 199 million fewer plastic carrier bags in landfill, on streets and in waterways. Not only has that made our communities nicer places to live in, it's protecting indigenous wildlife, particularly on our shorelines and rivers."
Mr Durkan added: "At a time of relentless austerity implemented by the Executive, the levy also provides much needed funding relief and security to environmental groups which are doing critical front line work in communities across Northern Ireland."