5p levy proposed for reusable bags
Placing a 5p levy on low-cost reusable bag sales should help reduce unnecessary purchases, Stormont's environment minister said.
The significant fall in the number of single use carriers in Northern Ireland has been accompanied by a huge increase in the number of sales of the more durable bags, which are not taxed.
Just over half of shoppers regularly reuse the carriers.
Mark Durkan said: "Just as the 5 pence levy on single use bags encouraged greater reuse of carrier bags and reduced the number of single use bags being dispensed, I believe that applying a 5 pence levy to low cost reusable bags should help significantly reduce unnecessary purchases of these bags, encourage even higher levels of reuse and generate substantial environmental benefit."
Since April this year, 168 retailers have sold over 1.5 million re-usable bags that are exempt from the levy.
The DoE has announced that the single use plastic bag tax will not increase as planned. The Department had previously proposed increasing the levy from 5p to 10p from April 2014.
Mr Durkan said provisional figures showing a large reduction in single use bag numbers had convinced him to drop the planned increase.
Data from a number of major supermarkets showed a reduction in plastic bag use of over 80%.
Mr Durkan said the results showed the 5p levy had produced "a step change in consumer behaviour".
Today, in a written assembly answer to DUP MLA Peter Weir, Mr Durkan said his department had anticipated that the levy on single use bags would generate an increase in sales of low cost carriers.
However, that increase was by more than 850% within six months of the change.
Mr Durkan said only 56% of shoppers regularly reused their bags in Northern Ireland, and evidence from Scotland and Wales suggests that figure may overstate the actual percentage of shoppers who regularly reuse.
"Clearly such trends, if they continue unchecked, would diminish the environmental benefits of the carrier bag levy," he said.
He added: "The relatively low price of low cost reusable bags could lead some people to treat them as single use bags, and discard them prematurely, with significant adverse impact on the environment."