Northern Ireland's 5p plastic bag charge comes into force

Retailers in Northern Ireland will now be required to charge customers at least five pence for each new single-use carrier bag under new regulations which come into force on 8 April.

Ministers hope the new levy will bring about an 80 per cent reduction in the use of these bags, with any proceeds from the levy being channelled back into the Department of the Environment.

Speaking after the Single Use Carrier Bags Charge Regulations were approved by the Assembly in January, Northern Ireland's environment minister, Alex Attwood, said: "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. We can reduce the number of carrier bags by at least 80% - this levy helps."

"This is an area where consumers can really help the environment. The image of NI as 'green & clean' - a major part of the character of our lives and the appeal of this place - can be deepened if we deal decisively with carrier bags and the damage they cause."

Bags made from paper, plant-based material or natural starch are also included in the levy. Other bags, such as those used for medicines, will be excluded from the charge on the grounds of hygiene and food safety and for the protection of goods and consumer confidentiality.

Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, Aodhán Connolly, said that although retailers had spent significant resources preparing for its implementation, there was still a risk of 'initial customer confusion and conflict.'

"I understand the Minister wants to do something for the environment. We care about the environment too and we've worked with customers on a voluntary basis to deliver big reductions in bag use, but bags should not be politicians' priority," he said.

"Our members are targeting the much bigger environmental prizes to be won from, for example, reducing the whole-life impact of products from manufacture and transport through their lifespan to disposal and recycling.

"But, with the legislation in place, our members have devoted substantial resources to staff training and other preparations and they're confident they're ready for this new regime."