Northern Ireland plastic bag ban


From today (8 April), retailers in Northern Ireland will charge at least five pence for each ‘single-use carrier bag’ a customer takes home, as part of a drive across the region to reduce plastic waste.

Northern Ireland’s Department of the Environment hopes the new tax will reduce the use of plastic carrier bags by 80 per cent.

The charge also applies to bags made from paper, plant-based material, or natural starch, on the grounds that alternatives to plastic bags also have environmental impacts.

However, no formal charge will apply for bags used for ‘hygiene and food safety’, ‘the protection of both goods and consumers’, or ‘confidentiality in respect to prescription medicines’.

Money raised from the tax will be forwarded to the Department of the Environment each quarter and will reportedly ‘generate a significant amount of money to help community and voluntary organisations, businesses, schools and charities improve the environment’.

The government has created short animated videos to inform both retailers and consumers about the tax, and will reportedly provide free ‘information posters’ for retailers to make the adjustment to the levy as easy as possible.

“We can quickly adjust”

The Environment Minister for Northern Ireland, Alex Attwood, said: "There is already a high awareness among people here of charging for bags, not least because that is our experience travelling to the republic. I believe we can quickly adjust to the levy. People tell me they are concerned about climate change and want to find ways to make personal, family and local contributions to addressing the threat. The levy is precisely this.

“Shoppers can completely avoid paying the levy by bringing their own bags when shopping. Whether it’s a 'bag for life', a canvas bag, or just an ordinary plastic carrier bag, it all helps the environment by using less raw materials, reducing carbon emissions and reducing air and water pollution. This is what the levy is all about.”

Administrative burden

However, concerns have been raised by The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), with Chief Executive Glyn Roberts stating: “NIIRTA shares Minister Attwood's objective of reducing the amount of carrier bags in circulation and that end up in landfill sites.

"We believe that sensible changes to the scheme, such as capping it at 5p, letting retailers distribute the levy proceeds to local charities as is the case in Wales and dropping some of the ridiculously high fines should be made.

"NIIRTA is concerned that the collecting and administration of the levy may pose a real burden on our members and we will be closely monitoring this over the next few months."

Increasing Pressure

Northern Ireland’s plastic bag charge follows a similar tax launched in Wales in 2011. According to the British Retail Consortium, the scheme in Wales cut handouts of plastic bags dramatically.

As Scotland is also currently working on introducing a plastic bag tax, it is thought there is increasing pressure on Defra to follow suit, as England could be the only country in the UK to be left without the charge.

Read more about Northern Ireland’s five pence carrier bag tax.