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Pack your own bags... or pay up with Northern Ireland levy

By Linda Stewart

It's just two weeks now until the carrier bag levy comes in – and then you will either have to bring your own bag or pay up.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood says that from Monday week retailers and businesses will have to charge at least 5p for each new single use carrier bag they supply to customers.

And his department has put together a short video to explain which bags will attract the charge, which won't and to emphasise that it is 5p on each bag rather than each time someone shops.

Meanwhile, the 5p charge doesn't just apply to plastic bags – it also covers single use bags made from other natural materials. Even "biodegradable" bags have a negative environmental impact.

But there are exceptions to the new rules.

Mr Attwood said: "The levy, a first for Northern Ireland, will apply to the majority of new single use carrier bags, regardless of the material from which the bag is made.

"It is not just on plastic bags but other single use bags from other natural materials. There are still come occasions when a bag will be provided free of charge.

"I want to make it as easy as possible for customers to understand the new levy. My department has made a short video available to view on

"Exceptions to the 5p levy will be on the grounds of patient confidentiality, hygiene and food safety, and when a bag is essential to protect goods or consumers, for example when taking away hot food or beverages. Some small bags will also be exempt and the levy will not apply when a carrier bag is being reused."

"Consumers don't have to pay the levy. They can simply bring their own bags when shopping," the minister said.

"Whilst we want all customers to be fully informed of the occasions when a bag will and will not be charged for, I must reiterate the important environmental message behind this initiative."

"At the moment we are using around 250 million carrier bags each year in Northern Ireland and we need to cut that number dramatically to reduce environmental damage.

"The evidence from other countries shows that a bag levy is a very effective way of doing this. Bring your own bag and you will not have to pay the levy," he added.

Under the new legislation retailers and businesses will be required to pass the proceeds of the levy to the DoE on a quarterly basis.

It will be administered by the department's Carrier Bag Levy Team and money raised will help fund environmental programmes.

Registering online will make it easy for businesses and retailers to pay the proceeds of the 5p levy. Retailers who received their registration letters from the department should complete their registration online at using the details in their letter.

Any retailer who has not received a letter should confirm with head office or accounts section if the store has been included as part of a single company wide return.

Which bags are exempt from levy?

  • Bags used solely to contain unwrapped or partially unwrapped food for human or animal consumption (eg loose fruit and vegetables, bread and other baked items).
  • Bags used solely to contain loose seeds or bulbs (eg from a garden centre), or items that are contaminated by soil (eg vegetables or pot plants).
  • Bags used to contain purchases in restricted passenger areas of airports, and on board ships, trains, aircraft, coaches and buses.
  • Bags used solely to contain unwrapped or partially unwrapped axes, knives or blades
  • Bags used to contain any aquatic animal in water (eg fish from a pet shop).
  • Bags used to contain items that have not been purchased (eg free catalogues, free gifts or promotional items).

Questions and answers

Question: So what is the Carrier Bag Levy?

Answer: It is a new environmental measure that requires shops and retail outlets in Northern Ireland to charge for each new single use carrier bag they dispense.

Question: When is the levy being brought in?

Answer: On April 8.

Question: Why is the levy being brought in?

Answer: At the moment we are using around 250 million carrier bags each year and we need to cut that number dramatically to reduce environmental damage.

Question: And how much will the levy be?

Answer: It will be 5p for each new single use bag.

Question: Where is the money going to and what will it be used for?

Answer: Retailers must pay the proceeds of the 5p levy to the DOE. The money will be used to help fund environmental programmes and activities.

Question: What sort of bags will the levy apply to?

Answer: The levy applies to most new single use bags distributed to shoppers to carry their shopping. There are exemptions (see left).

Question: Will the levy apply to just single use plastic bags?

Answer: No. The levy will also apply to single use bags made from paper and other natural materials.

Question: Where will the levy be charged?

Answer: The levy will be charged in all shops and retail outlets that dispense new single use bags

Question: What about online shopping?

Answer: If you buy online from a retailer distributing the goods from premises within Northern Ireland (eg grocery shopping), then the single use bags used to deliver your goods will be liable for the charge.

Belfast Telegraph


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