Almost 215 million single-use carrier bags have been saved in Northern Ireland during the first year of Stormont’s “bag tax”, according to official figures.
The Department of the Environment (DoE) said that between April 2013 and March of this year there had been a decrease of almost 72 per cent since the introduction of a 5p charge for carrier bags.
The vast majority of the bags are made of plastic but some other bags — controversially also including paper bags — are included under the charge.
The department said that the figures showed that “the people of Northern Ireland have embraced the carrier bag levy by reducing their consumption of single-use bags dramatically”.
There were 84.5 million single-use carrier bags dispensed during the 12-month period, down from the department’s estimate of 300 million bags given out in the preceding year.
Bags which are exempt from the bag tax, including those used for raw or hot food, are not included in the figures.
The figures show that the number of carrier bags sold across the Province remained fairly constant over the 12-month period which the figures cover.
There were just over 19 million single-use bags dispensed during the first quarter, rising to 24 million during the quarter which took in Christmas and falling back to just over 19 million in the final quarter of the 12-month period.
The SDLP’s Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan, said: “The response from shoppers has been very positive and retailers have also risen to the challenge. The result has been a very significant reduction in single-use carrier bags.
“During the past year, I have ensured that money from the bag levy has gone back into the community through environmental projects.
“I have visited many of these projects and have been inspired by the great work being done.
“I am delighted to announce that £2.5million of this year’s levy receipts will be available to support community projects. The community pays the levy and I will ensure that the community gets the benefit of the levy.”
The DoE said that even before the introduction of the bag tax the number of single-use bags issued in the Province had fallen because of efforts by retailers — coming down from an estimated 425 million in 2006-2007 to 300 million six years later.
The DoE said that during the first 12 months of the bag tax it had received £4.17 million from the charge and that the money had been given to community or environmental projects. It is understood that in coming weeks the minister will set out how groups can apply for some of the money.