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Carrier Bag Levy

Northern Ireland retailers must charge at least 5p for new carrier bags. The main aim is to protect the environment by substantially cutting the number of carrier bags used. Reusing carrier bags saves natural resources and reduces the need for landfill.

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 applies to all new carrier bags with a retail price below 20p. This is regardless of whether they are single use or reusable.

The levy applies to carrier bags of all materials.

The levy applies to carrier bags when:

  • you buy goods like groceries or clothing
  • goods need to be delivered, for example, items bought from the internet which are sent from premises in Northern Ireland and delivered in carrier bags

Retailers set the price of their bags which means that prices may vary. However, only the proceeds of the 5p levy are paid to the Department of the Environment (DOE).

When does the levy not apply?

The levy does not apply when the bags:

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

Where does the money go?

The money raised is used to deliver local projects to improve the environment. In its first year (2013/14), £3.4m of the proceeds were spent on more than 250 projects delivered by the Northern Ireland Environment Link (NIEL) Challenge Fund, Natural Heritage grants, Sustainability Innovation Fund and Local Clean-Up Support projects.

Retailers’ responsibilities

When it applies, retailers must:

  • charge customers the 5p levy for each new carrier bag given out with a retail price of less than 20p
  • pay the net proceeds of the levy to DOE

To contact the DOE carrier bag levy team:

Reusing bags

You should only use clean bags in a good state of repair. Clean your long life reusable bags often. Bags which are torn or contaminated with food should be recycled at carrier bag recycling points.

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