Over 56 million carrier bags dispensed in Northern Ireland last year

Over 56 million carrier bags dispensed in Northern Ireland last year

It’s eight years since the plastic bag levy came into Northern Ireland – and the latest statistics from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs show that between 1st April 2020 and 31st March 2021 a staggering 56.2 million plastic bags were dispensed by retailers under the carrier bag levy in Northern Ireland.

The carrier bag levy that commenced on 8 April 2013 and since then there has been a steady decline. The latest figures show a decrease – 30.2% lower than the previous year, with 24.3 million fewer bags dispensed. The number of lower rate bags dispensed decreased by 26.0% between 2019/20 and 2020/21 while the number of upper rate bags dispensed decreased by 34.0%.

The Levy

The number of carrier bags dispensed in 2020/21 is still markedly lower than the baseline figure prior to the introduction of the levy, which was estimated at 300 million bags in 2012. Year 8 of the 5p levy saw an 81.3% reduction in bag numbers dispensed annually compared to the baseline figure which meant approximately 243.8 million fewer bags in circulation in 2020/21 and an estimated 1.7 billion fewer since the introduction of the levy.

The proceeds of the levy for 2020/21 totalled £2.2 million, a decrease of £2.2 million (50.5%) from the previous year. This was in part due to the levy being waived for home delivery of groceries between 1 April 2020 and 30 September 2020 to manage challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.

1.7 billion less plastic bags since 2013

Minister Poots said: “It is very positive to report the removal of over 1.7 billion bags from circulation across Northern Ireland since 2013.  I also welcome the fact that there has been an overall 30.2 % decrease in usage from last year, this reduction demonstrates that despite other challenges, people in Northern Ireland are aware of the damage plastic does to our environment. However, there is much more that can be done.”

The Minister continued, “While year-on-year usage continues to decline, I am concerned at the volume of heavy duty bags that are now flooding the NI retail sector. These heavy duty bags have become the new “throw away” bag and it is important that we take steps to manage their environmentally detrimental consequences. My Department has recently completed an 8-week public consultation aimed at strengthening and future proofing the NI Carrier Bag legislation and officials are currently collating the responses. I propose to bring forward revised Carrier Bag legislation within this current assembly mandate”


The Minister concluded, “It is unacceptable that far too much plastic ends up as pollution in our environment or waste in our landfills. My Department continues to work on a number of key environmental policy areas including meeting the New Decade, New Approach commitment on eliminating plastic pollution and the Green Growth framework, which is currently under development. We remain focused on the circular economy, tackling the “throwaway” culture and the development of an NI specific Environment Strategy. Whilst I welcome today’s report, we can always do more and I urge everyone in Northern Ireland to do their bit and re-use bags whenever they can.”

The full statistics are available here: