5p levy on carrier bags approved
Shoppers in Northern Ireland will be charged at least 5p for carrier bags from April, it has been confirmed.
The move comes after Assembly members voted in favour of introducing a new levy.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood said the charge could help reduce by 80% the 250 million bags which are used every year.
Mr Attwood said: "Recent statistics have shown a significant increase in single use carrier bags handed out by major supermarkets in Northern Ireland - it is the big retailers which I am most interested in. We can reduce the number of carrier bags by at least 80% - this levy helps."
The Single Use Carrier Bags Charge Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2013 ("the Regulations") will come into force on April 8.
The 5p levy is not confined to plastic bags but also applies to biodegradable bags made from paper, plant-based material or natural starch. However, exemptions have been made for hot food and prescription medicine.
The minister added: "The key objective of the carrier bag levy is to reduce or eliminate the unnecessary use of bags, regardless of the material from which they are made. The introduction of charging will help to communicate the wider 'reduce and reuse' waste message."
Revenue raised will contribute towards a number of departmental environmental programmes and activities.
Green Party MLA Steven Agnew welcomed the move. He said: "This should not be seen as a revenue-raiser. It is clear that the objective of any legislative change should be around behaviour change."
But TUV leader Jim Allister said: "It seems to me that we are once more in the business of imposing more burden upon retailers with very little net gain for the environment. I find difficulty in understanding rhyme or reason for these regulations."