Over 1.7 billion carrier bags were removed from circulation across Northern Ireland in the past year, new figures show

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The 8th annual Carrier Bag Levy statistics for Northern Ireland show that 56.2 million carrier bags were dispensed by retailers under the levy in Northern Ireland between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera), this was 30.2% lower than the previous year, with 24.3 million fewer bags dispensed.

The proceeds of the carrier bag levy, which was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2013 and applies to all bags, totalled £2.2 million, a decrease of £2.2m (50.5%) from the previous year.

This was in part due to the levy being waived for home delivery of groceries between 1 April 2020 and 30 September 2020 to manage challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots commented on the new statistics: “Since the release of the last Carrier Bag Levy statistics we have witnessed an unprecedented year, with COVID-19 impacting on both our personal and business lives.

“We have faced many challenges in how and where we shop and access retail services, however it is very positive to report the removal of over 1.7 billion bags from circulation across Northern Ireland in the past year.

“I also welcome the fact that there has been an overall 30.2 % decrease in usage from last year, this reduction demonstrates that despite other challenges, people in Northern Ireland are aware of the damage plastic does to our environment.

“However, there is much more that can be done.

“While year-on-year usage continues to decline, I am concerned at the volume of heavy duty bags that are 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.

“My Department has recently completed an 8-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.

“It is unacceptable that far too much plastic ends up as pollution in our environment or waste in our landfills. We remain focused on the circular economy, tackling the ‘throwaway’ culture and the development of an NI specific Environment Strategy.

“Whilst I welcome this report, we can always do more and I urge everyone in Northern Ireland to do their bit and re-use bags whenever they can.”

The statistics are available to view on the Daera website.