Increase in cost of carrier bags to 25p in Northern Ireland branded excessive by retail chief

The increase in cost of carrier bags in Northern Ireland from 5p to 25p will “clobber hard-working families” according to Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts.

By Graeme Cousins
Tuesday, 9th November 2021, 6:09 pm
Glyn Roberts (left), chief executive of Retail NI
Glyn Roberts (left), chief executive of Retail NI

Mr Roberts was shocked at today’s announcement by DAERA minister Edwin Poots who said more needed to be done to encourage people to reuse bags.

The head of Retail NI, who had proposed an increase to 10p, said: “We believe that this big jump from 5p to 25p is absolutely excessive and will have a negative impact on hard-working families who are going to have a very difficult winter with increases in National Insurance, with energy increaes, all of that. That’s our concern.

“They’ve just completely ignored the views of retailers by putting this excessive increase forward.”

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In 2012 an estimated 300 million carrier bags were dispensed in Northern Ireland before the levy was introduced

He added: “Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely agree that we should have less carrier bags in circulation and ending up on landfill but to clobber hard-working families in this way is not the way to do it.”

Meanwhile chief executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, Ian Humphreys, welcomed the increase in the carrier bag levy as “a brave move in the fight against plastic pollution” that his organisation has been pushing Stormont on for some time.

Mr Humphreys said: “This move will hopefully deter throw away culture and consumer dependency on single use plastics and instead encourage consumers to be more sustainably-minded and reuse shopping bags.

“The announcement comes in the midst of COP26 which has served as an excellent platform to us all to acknowledge that the environmental challenges that face us are very real and immediate. If we all commit to small changes now, such as reusing plastic bags or not purchasing them at all, it will have a hugely positive impact.”

While carrier bags are set to increase to 25p in NI, in England bags were increased to 10p in May while in Scotland bags went up to 10p in April.

Mr Poots revealed the rise during an oral statement today to the Assembly on the Province’s first overarching Environment Strategy.

In addition to the rise in the levy, he also announced an extension to the existing pricing threshold, which will see all bags priced at £5 or less subject to the levy, irrespective of the material they are made from.

Mr Poots said: “Whilst the existing Carrier Bag Levy has been successful in already removing over 1.7 billion bags from circulation, I am aware that a significant number of retailers in NI are selling large volumes of heavy duty bags at a cost of 20 pence or more each. These are now flooding the market and are not being reused, with harmful environmental consequences.

“This announcement will go some way towards making Northern Ireland a cleaner and more pleasant place in which to live, by ensuring that proceeds from the levy are re-invested in supporting the wider NI environmental sector.

“By continuing to work together we can help meet the New Decade, New Approach commitment on eliminating plastic pollution, this also underpins the draft Green Growth Strategy for Northern Ireland, which I recently launched on behalf of the NI Executive.”

Prior to the introduction of the levy eight years ago it was estimated that 300 million bags were dispensed in 2012. Since then the number has remained under 100 million each year.

The most recent figures, published up to March, show a dramatic fall in the use of carrier bags in NI though this period coincides with various lockdowns. In 2019/20 £4.4million was spent on carrier bags, while in 2020/21 the amount spent had fallen to £2.2million.

Mr Poots said: “It is unacceptable that far too much plastic ends up as pollution in our environment or waste in our landfills. My department will continue to work hard on the issue of the circular economy, eliminating plastic pollution and tackling throwaway culture. With over five trillion single use plastic bags used worldwide every year and plastic waste set to quadruple by 2050, I would encourage everyone to play their part locally and reuse bags whenever they can.”

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