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More people buying plastic shopping bags at tills

Minister Mark H Durkan said he will "continue to ensure that people get the benefit of the levy".

SEVEN million more plastic bags were bought in the north last year, with shoppers drifting back to using them just two years after the 5p charge was introduced.

In the first year after the Department of the Environment introduced the levy, the number dispensed at tills plunged from 300 million to 84.5 million.

The rise in the last year was fairly modest at 8.2 per cent, but does represent an increase of seven million - and an attendant rise in money collected by the department of £400,000.

Altogether the levy has generated £8.8m for community-based environmental projects such as the `Challenge' fund.

This channelled £1.3m to 150 environmental projects in 2014/2015.

The Woodland Trust used money from the plastic bag levy to finance its Brackfield Wood project - a 40,000-tree commemorative wood in memory of Irish people killed during the two world wars.

Money has also gone towards the Natural Heritage Fund (£1.2m), Sustainability Innovation Fund (£0.4m), Local Clean-up Support Programme (£0.3m), Listed Building Grant Programme (£0.4m), Community Waste Fund (£0.2m), and Keep NI Beautiful grants (£0.4m).

Minister Mark H Durkan said the money has safeguarded important environmental work.

"The response from shoppers again has been very positive and retailers continue to rise to the challenge. I commend them for that," he said.

"The levy has also enabled me to fund 21 environmental NGOs and landscape management bodies through the Natural Environment Fund. Given the acute economic situation that I faced, there would have been no money in the DoE budget for this sector.

"People pay the levy and I will continue to ensure that people get the benefit of the levy."

Bags which are exempt from the levy such as those used solely to contain unpackaged raw food or hot foods and drinks are not included in the data.

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