Northern Ireland plastic bag use down 68% since 5p levy was created
Over five million fewer plastic bags were dispensed in Northern Ireland last year, according to new government figures.
Data released by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs shows that in the sixth year of the carrier bag levy operating in the region, 93.5 million plastic bags were handed out by retailers.
This figure is 5.4% lower than the previous year, with 5.3 million fewer bags dispensed.
There is a minimum 5p charge for carrier bags at all retailers in Northern Ireland, under legislation introduced in 2013 and aimed at reducing their use.
The levy raised £4.6m in 2018/19, down £300,000 (6.1%) on 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 300m in 2012.
The Continuous Household Survey revealed an increase in the number of people 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 also shows most people now reuse their plastic bags. In the 2018/19 survey, 85% of respondents claimed to reuse plastic bags, up from 81%.
James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth in Northern Ireland, said 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," Mr Orr said.
"More must also be done to reduce the problems caused by other plastic products such as coffee cups and bottles.
"If we really want to end the scourge of plastic pollution, we need new legislation to phase-out the use of all non-essential plastic."
Ian Humphreys, the CEO of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, has suggested raising the levy.
"We need to continue to keep the pressure on tackling our dependence on plastic," he said.
"An increase in the levy should be implemented to at least 10p and other measures should be examined with the goal of ending our use of plastic bags and sourcing environmentally friendly alternatives."
NI Environment Agency chief executive David Small said the figures were "very encouraging".
Mr Small also revealed that £15m raised through the levy over the past three years has been pumped into protecting the environment.