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Carrier Bag Levy

The Carrier Bag Levy was introduced in Northern Ireland on 8 April 2013. Retailers must charge at least 5p for new single use carrier bags. The main aim is to protect the environment by cutting substantially the number of carrier bags we use.

Changes from January 2015

On 19 January 2015, changes were introduced and the levy now applies to all new carrier bags with a retail price below 20p – regardless of whether they are single use or reusable and regardless of the material from which they are made.

There is evidence that people purchase significantly more cheap reusable bags when a charge is applied to single use bags. Extending the levy to cheap reusable bags is intended to encourage customers to actively reuse these bags to their full potential and avoid them becoming ‘throwaway’ bags.

It's not just plastic bags

Alternatives to plastic bags such as paper bags can be equally or more damaging to the environment.  For this reason there is no exemption for carrier bags on the basis of the material from which they are made.

When does the levy apply?

The levy will continue to apply to carrier bags when:

  • you buy goods like groceries or clothing
  • goods need to be delivered, for example when you make an internet purchase (for goods which are delivered in carrier bags and dispatched from Northern Ireland premises)

Retailers are responsible for setting the price of the bags they dispense to their customers and as such bags may be made available at a variety of prices.  

However, only the proceeds of the 5p levy are payable to the Department of the Environment and the levy will only apply to bags with a retail price below 20p.

When does the levy not apply?

The levy does not apply when the bags are:

  • to contain take-away hot food and hot drinks
  • solely to contain certain items such as unpackaged food, seeds and bulbs, axes/ knives/ razor blades, goods contaminated by soil and some medicinal products
  • to carry goods purchased in an airport after you clear security
  • used when you are purchasing a service (for example: shoe repair or laundry)
  • of certain sizes and used solely to contain packaged uncooked meat or fish
  • certain types of small bags
  • specialist bags such as mail order and courier bags
  • bags supplied for free to replace worn out ‘bags for life’
  • carrier bags with a retail price of 20p or more

Where does the money go?

The money raised will continue to be used to deliver local projects to improve the environment for everyone.

Carrier Bag Levy statistics for year one can be viewed here:

£3.4m of the proceeds received in 2013/14 were spent on environment projects including 251 community led initiatives through the NIEA Challenge Fund, Natural Heritage grants, the Sustainability Innovation Fund and Local Clean-Up Support projects.

Additional funds from the carrier bag levy were announced for the NGO Challenge Fund 2015.

Application forms and guidance notes can be downloaded from Northern Ireland Environment Link (NIEL) website or alternatively you can contact them at

89 Loopland Drive

Retailers’ responsibilities

Retailers must, when applicable:

  • charge customers the 5p levy for each new carrier bag dispensed for a retail price of less than 20p
  • pay the net proceeds of the levy to the Department of the Environment

To contact the carrier bag levy team

More useful links