In addition to plastic bags, the levy will also apply to those made of paper, plant-based material and natural starch.
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’.
The Northern Ireland Assembly approved proposals for the bag charge last week. It estimated that 250 million ‘single use carrier bags’ are used in Northern Ireland every year, a figure that is expected to fall by ‘at least 80 per cent’ following the introduction of the levy.
‘Reduce and reuse’
The Environment Minister for Northern Ireland, Alex Attwood, said: “[The] backing from the Assembly is an important milestone in introducing the carrier bag levy. It means the carrier bag levy regime can ‘go live’ on 8 April.
“Recent statistics have shown a significant increase in single use carrier bags handed out by major supermarkets in Northern Ireland – it is the big retailers which I am most interested in.
“The key objective of the carrier bag levy is to reduce or eliminate the unnecessary use of bags, regardless of the material from which they are made. The introduction of charging will help to communicate the wider ‘reduce and reuse’ waste message.”
According to Attwood, the net proceeds of the levy will go to the Department of the Environment (DoE) and be used to fund ‘environmental programmes and activities’.
The minister has also proposed that should the levy prove a success, he would increase the charge to 10p and extend it to include low cost reusable bags by April 2014.
A five pence plastic bag levy has been in place in Wales since October 2011 and was last year deemed a success by Welsh Environment Minister John Griffiths, following a 96% reduction in bag usage in some retail sectors.
However, last year, packaging trade bodies linked together to present a united front in lobbying Scottish and UK parliaments and politicians with the aim of putting, what they call, science over spin when it comes to emotive attacks on carrier bags.
Science over spin
Speaking during the launch of the new group, Pafa chief executive Barry Turner said: “There is no evidence to support the frequent suggestions that introducing bag charges delivers overall environmental benefits or that in some way restricting the numbers of carrier bags in use will make consumers more environmentally-conscious in other areas of their lives.
“In fact, all that is needed is for consumers to follow best practice by re-using or recycling their bags once they have served their very useful first purpose of carrying food and shopping safely.”