Five million fewer plastic bags handed out in Northern Ireland
Friends of the Earth have welcomed the reduction but urged tougher measures against single use plastic bags and moves against other plastics.
Five million fewer plastic bags were handed out in Northern Ireland in the last year, according to Government figures.
The data was released as a survey recorded increasing concern among the public about environmental issues.
In the sixth year of the carrier bag levy operating in the region, 93.5 million carrier bags were handed out by retailers.
This figure is 5.4% lower than the previous year, with 5.3 million fewer bags dispensed.
Under legislation introduced in Northern Ireland in 2013 aimed at reducing the use of plastic, retailers must charge at least 5p for new carrier bags.
Friends of the Earth welcomed the reduction but urged tougher measures, such as a complete ban on single-use plastic bags.
The charity’s Northern Ireland director James Orr also warned that plastic bags are “just the tip of a huge plastic iceberg”.
“We’re delighted that so many people are now reusing bags and saving money when they go shopping,” he said.
If we are really want to end the scourge of plastic pollution, we need new legislation to phase out the use of all non-essential plastic James Orr
“But with millions of single-use plastic bags still being sold, tougher measures – such as a complete ban – may be needed.
“Of course these bags are just the tip of a huge plastic iceberg that threatens our wildlife. More must also be done to reduce the problems caused by other plastic products such as coffee cups and bottles.
“And if we are really want to end the scourge of plastic pollution, we need new legislation to phase out the use of all non-essential plastic.”
The carrier bag levy raised £4.6 million in 2018/19, a decrease of £300,000 (6.1%) from the previous year.
There has been a 68.8% reduction in the number of carrier bags dispensed since the levy was introduced, down from an estimated 300 million in 2012.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, which records the statistics, published the latest figures on Thursday.
The department also revealed growing concern about environmental issues.
The Continuous Household Survey recorded an increase in individuals concerned about the environment compared with last year. A total of 75% of respondents in the 2018/19 survey were reported to be very/fairly concerned about environmental issues, up from 71% in 2017/18.
The survey showed that most respondents reused plastic bags. In the 2018/19 survey a total of 85% respondents claimed to reuse plastic bags, up from 81%.
There has been raised awareness of plastic pollution partly attributed to the popular BBC TV series Blue Planet which highlighted the scale of the issues in the world’s oceans.
Reducing and reusing our shopping bags is one simple way for us all to play our part in conserving our natural resources and keep plastic out of landfills David Small
Northern Ireland Environment Agency chief executive David Small welcomed the figures as “very encouraging”.
He also revealed that £15 million raised through the levy over the past three years has been invested in protecting the environment.
“Today’s statistics showing 93.5 million carrier bags were dispensed by retailers under the scheme in 18/19, compared to 300 million bags in 2012, are very encouraging,” he said.
“It clearly reflects the growing concern amongst consumers about environmental issues as well as demonstrating their desire to actively participate in protecting our environment.
“Reducing and reusing our shopping bags is one simple way for us all to play our part in conserving our natural resources and keep plastic out of landfills.”