Statistics published yesterday (25 August) show that 199m fewer carrier bags are in circulation in Northern Ireland today than when the levy was introduced in April 2013.
During the third year of operation, 101.2m carrier bags were dispensed by retailers under the carrier bag levy in Northern Ireland.
This was 10.6% higher than the previous year, as 9.7m more bags were dispensed.
Department for Agriculture and Aural Affairs said this is because a change was made to the Regulations during the last quarter of 2014/15 and came into operation on 19 January 2015, which meant more bags fell within the scope of the Regulations and consequently additional bag usage being reported throughout 2015/16 than during the first three quarters of 2014/15.
“The people of Northern Ireland have embraced the reuse and recycling of shopping bags. This significantly reduces the amount of both plastic and paper going to landfill”
The number of carrier bags dispensed in 2015/16 is lower than the baseline figure prior to the introduction of the levy, which was estimated at 300m bags in 2012.
Year 3 of the 5p levy saw a reduction in bag numbers of 66.3% compared to the baseline figure which meant approximately 198.8 million fewer bags in circulation.
The proceeds of the levy for 2015/16 totalled £5.2m, an increase of £0.5m (10.8%) from the previous year.
Proceeds are taken from audited Departmental financial accounts and are not Official Statistics. They cannot be calculated from bag usage figures due to differences in timing and recording.
Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Michelle McIlveen, said: “It is encouraging that so many carrier bags have been taken out of circulation since the introduction of the levy. The people of Northern Ireland have embraced the reuse and recycling of shopping bags. This significantly reduces the amount of both plastic and paper going to landfill.
“A small change in behaviour at the cash registers contributes hugely to enhancing and further protecting the environment and public space that we all share. I commend everyone involved in this collective effort, both shopkeepers and consumers. I also remind everyone to be mindful of unnecessary waste, and continue to reduce what we throw away.”
Due to the scope of the scheme being widened, overall bag usage has risen by approximately 10% since last year. From 19 January 2015, the levy applied to all carrier bags with a retail price of less than 20 pence, where previously it was limited to single-use bags.
For 2015-16, the Department channelled the money raised from the carrier bag levy to projects, which underpin the delivery of key environmental outcomes.
Nearly £1.8m was allocated through the Natural Heritage Fund and its successor the Natural Environment Fund
A further £0.4m was used to combat illegal waste dumping and nearly £0.5m was given to community waste organisations to support urban clean-up programmes such as Keep NI Beautiful and Live Here Love Here £0.4m was allocated to the Challenge Fund to support local community environmental projects.