Northern Ireland bag levy providing £400k for community environment projects

Northern Irish Environment Minister Michelle McIlveen announced yesterday (26 October) that an initial £400,000 raised through the country’s carrier bag levy will be made available to the 2016-17 Challenge Fund. The fund aims to enable community groups and schools to run small-scale environmental projects and offer educational opportunities to improve the local environment and boost civic pride.

NI bag levy providing £400k for community environment projectsThe fund, in place since 2011, depends largely on revenue from the carrier bag levy, stipulating that retailers charge 5p for single-use carrier bags, as well as reusable bags with a retail price of less than 20p since January 2015. The aim of the charge is to save natural resources and reduce the amount of plastics going to landfill.

The levy has seen a reduction the dispensation of carrier bags in Northern Ireland while also raising funds for environmental projects. Official figures from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) released last August show that there are now 199 million fewer carrier bags in circulation, a decrease of 66.3 per cent from the baseline of 300 million in 2012, while £5.2 million was raised through the levy in 2015-16.

Speaking about the fund yesterday, McIlveen said: “The Challenge Fund is one of a number of mechanisms by which the proceeds of the carrier bag levy [introduced in April 2013] are reinvested in the environment. This funding of £400,000, with potentially further support later in the year, will enable local communities, schools and voluntary organisations to undertake small-scale projects to improve the environment and deliver environmental education.”

Bags helping to ‘enhance civic pride’

With the key themes for the Challenge Fund for the 2016-17 financial year being civic pride, access and recreation, education and awareness and environmental management, McIlveen was keen to outline how funding could be used to meet these criteria and the positive impact that the fund has had to date.

She said: “Community groups can use the funding to enhance civic pride in their local area through, for example, tidying a local beach or neglected beauty spot or creating and enhancing areas where the public can enjoy the local environment. Schools can take advantage of the financial support to create eco-gardens and provide learning opportunities where children and young people can engage with nature.

“To date, more than £4.6 million has been offered from the Challenge Fund, enabling almost 600 environmental projects to be carried out, and I am pleased to be able to deliver further resources for the fund and ensure this good work in our schools and communities can continue.”

Possible alterations to bag levy coming next year

Despite this funding commitment for the 2016-17 financial year, it remains to be seen how much longer the Challenge Fund will be able to rely on funding from the carrier bag levy, with McIlveen admitting at Question Time at the Northern Ireland Assembly (4 October) that DAERA is committed to a statutory review of the charge by April 2017.

She said: “[The review] will be looking at three options: maintain existing arrangements, discontinue the existing levy and remove the 5p charge, and finally, increase the levy to 10p for all bags with the threshold extended to 40p."

Funding from the Challenge Fund for the 2016-17 financial year will be awarded via a competitive application process. The scheme will close for applications at 12.00 noon on Friday 18 November 2016.

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