Plastic bag levy hailed a success as usage falls 80%
Initial statistics suggest there has already been a significant reduction of more than 80% in plastic bag usage in Northern Ireland supermarkets.
The news comes just three months after a 5p-per-bag green levy was introduced in a bid to decrease demand among consumers.
In the absence of precise pre-levy bag use data, it is estimated that 300 million carrier bags were used across the region in 2012.
Provisional figures from the Government indicate that 17.5 million single-use carrier bags were dispensed by retailers between April 8 and June 30 this year.
Notwithstanding seasonal variations which must be factored in, the Department of the Environment has heralded the levy an early success.
Minister Mark H Durkan said he welcomed the recent supermarket figures which pointed to "a possible annual reduction well in excess of 80%".
"Our streets and hedgerows, our fields and parks should no longer be places strewn with discarded bags," Mr Durkan said.
"I commend people for their responsible attitude and willingness to come on board.
"They are making a personal contribution to addressing the threat of climate change and environmental damage."
Both the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association and the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium opposed the tax – which is to rise to 10p next April – and said it was a money-making initiative for the Executive.
NIIRTA boss Glyn Roberts has reiterated calls for the minister to scrap plans to hike the levy in the interest of retailers and consumers. "If this levy is so successful at 5p per bag, then there is no need to raise it to 10p which will create even more expense for hard-pressed consumers," he said.
A 5p levy on single use plastic carrier bags was introduced in April 2003 by the then Environment Minister Alex Attwood. He said the measure would raise up to £4m a year for environmental causes. A charge for plastic bags was first introduced in the Irish Republic in 2002 – it is currently 22 cents. Authorities there estimate that plastic bag use fell by 90%.