Belfast Telegraph

Stormont delays plan for a 5p tax on reusable bags until 2015

BY LINDA STEWART

Plans to charge 5p for reusable carrier bags have been delayed until at least January 2015.

Stormont's environment committee said the DoE had agreed to hold off on the second phase of the bag levy to allow more time to prepare for the new charging arrangements.

The committee has just released a report on the department's plans to extend the current 5p levy on plastic single-use bags to cheap carrier bags to prevent them becoming the new 'throwaway' bag.

Currently reusable bags cost more than the 5p minimum charged for single use bags.

The fear is that if the reusable bags cost only 5p they will be seen as disposable by shoppers and undermine the progress made in reducing plastic bag waste.

The idea behind the plan once it is introduced is that people will opt for a reusable bag and there will be little demand for single use bags.

In response to concerns by the committee over timing, the department has given assurances that it will amend the Carrier Bags Bill and further charges will be delayed until at least January 2015.

Earlier this year, provisional Government figures suggested the first phase of the levy has cut plastic bag usage by more than 80%.

Committee chairperson Anna Lo (above) said: "We all know the problems that plastic bags can cause for the environment.

"They often end up as unsightly litter or landfill, or find their way into the sea and waterways, causing harm to wildlife.

"The committee is therefore pleased that initial evidence suggests that the first phase of carrier bag charging has led to a significant decrease in the number of plastic bags in circulation. While the committee was examining the Bill, however, members were concerned that the department's proposed implementation date for the second phase of charging – April 2014 – was too soon.

"They felt that it did not give the department enough time to prepare the public for these new charging arrangements.

"In addition, members felt that the department needed more time to gather clear evidence on how the first phase of charging has impacted on retailers, particularly smaller retailers, and on people's shopping habits."

The major supermarkets told the committee that a longer lead-in period would give them more time to get ready for putting the new arrangements in place, she said.

"In response to the committee's concerns, the department has now given us an assurance that it will amend the Bill, and we welcome the delay of further charges until at least January 2015," Ms Lo said.

"We hope that this later implementation date will give the department time to deliver a clear communications strategy to the public.

"The last thing we want is for shoppers to be confused: they need clear, straightforward information on exactly which types of bags will be subject to the levy and what they will cost at the checkout."

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