Northern Ireland news

30% drop in number of carrier bags issued by retailers

The carrier bag levy has reduced the number of bags used in the north. Picture By: Aidan O'Reilly.
Rebecca Black, PA

The number of carrier bags issued by retailers in Northern Ireland has dropped by more than 30% over the last year.

Some 56.2 million carrier bags were dispensed between April 1 2020 and March 31 2021.

This was 30.2% lower than the previous year, with 24.3 million fewer bags dispensed.

The number is recorded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), which has responsibility for the carrier bag levy under which retailers must charge at least 5p for new carrier bags.

The levy scheme, aimed at reducing the number of plastic bags used, has been running for eight years.

Last year the number of lower rate bags dispensed decreased by 26% while the number of upper rate bags dispensed decreased by 34%.

Some 300 million bags are estimated to have been dispensed in 2012 before the introduction of the levy.

Meanwhile, the DAERA said the proceeds of the levy for 2020/21 totalled £2.2 million, a decrease of £2.2 million from the previous year.

The decrease was partly due to the levy being waived for home delivery of groceries between April 1 and September 30 2020 to manage challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lockdown also had an impact on the number of carrier bags dispensed.

The usual pattern of bags dispensed changed, with the numbers in quarter one (April to June) not increasing as they normally would following quarter four.

Instead the number of bags continued to decrease, which coincides with the first lockdown period when many retailers were closed.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots welcomed the drop in the number of bags issued but raised concern about the volume of heavy duty bags which he described as “now flooding the NI retail sector”.

“These heavy duty bags have become the new ‘throw away’ bag and it is important that we take steps to manage their environmentally detrimental consequences,” he said.

“My department has recently completed an eight-week public consultation aimed at strengthening and future-proofing the NI carrier bag legislation and officials are currently collating the responses.

“I propose to bring forward revised carrier bag legislation within this current Assembly mandate.”

Mr Poots added: “It is unacceptable that far too much plastic ends up as pollution in our environment or waste in our landfills.

“My department continues to work on a number of key environmental policy areas including meeting the New Decade, New Approach commitment on eliminating plastic pollution and the Green Growth framework, which is currently under development.

“We remain focused on the circular economy, tackling the ‘throwaway’ culture and the development of an NI-specific environment strategy.

“Whilst I welcome today’s report, we can always do more and I urge everyone in Northern Ireland to do their bit and reuse bags whenever they can.”

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