Plastic Bag Levy

environment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 5th October 2009.

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Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin 3:15 pm, 5th October 2009

7. asked the Minister of the Environment if he plans to introduce a levy on plastic bags.    (AQO 156/10)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I do not have any immediate plans to introduce a levy on plastic bags.

Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an fhreagra sin. I note that the Minister said that he does not have any plans to introduce a levy. However, will he outline how he intends to address the issue in the future? Does he wish to introduce a levy, or is he categorically refusing to address the issue in the future?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I used the word “immediate” deliberately, because we first need to identify how successful we have been in reducing the number of plastic bags. Since the voluntary approach was announced in July, there has been a 38% reduction in plastic bags in Northern Ireland. That does not compare favourably with the rest of the UK, in which there has been a 48% reduction. However, supermarket sales in Northern Ireland have gone up. That is good news and is largely to do with the fact that people from the South are coming to Northern Ireland to buy goods. It is, therefore, harder to reduce the amount of bags in a rising market.

The option of doing away with plastic bags altogether raises other issues. First, in the Republic, there has been a larger take-up of plastic bin bags. Therefore, people are not using plastic shopping bags, but they are replacing them with a different type of plastic bag. Secondly, the potential use of paper bags is a problem because they are heavier and their production has more of an environmental impact. Therefore, the issue is not just as straightforward as doing away with all plastic bags.

Nonetheless, we have been successful thus far in reducing the number of plastic bags by 38%. I want to keep the pressure on supermarkets and, indeed, smaller shops, because they have work to do to reduce the percentage further. I will make a decision later, once the voluntary approach has been carried out fully.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

I ask that the Minister does not make a rash decision about the price of plastic bags, because last week the media were very interested in the fact that I spent £2 on plastic bags for my office last year, and I do not want to increase that cost to the taxpayer.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

If you lived in the Republic of Ireland — you do not, and I suspect that, like me, you never will — you would have had to pay 44 cents a bag. That is not a lot of money to many people; however, to those living on the breadline it is. Therefore, I do not want to impose a levy that will hurt people in a struggling sector when we can introduce a successful voluntary approach instead. The 38% reduction is a success story, but we need to go further. We wish to push that figure up, but if we cannot do that, we will look at introducing a tax on plastic bags.

Photo of P J Bradley P J Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Minister agree that a levy on plastic bags would discourage their use, lead to the use of more environmentally friendly options and reduce the total amount of domestic waste?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

In my response to Mr McCartney’s question, I tried to explain that there are no easy solutions and that no solution is purely environmentally positive. All of the solutions have negative connotations. Although we want to discourage the use and the multiplicity of plastic bags, there is a good success story to be sold and told. Lots of people now buy the reusable bags for life. I encourage more people to use them, and I encourage shops to be more reluctant to give plastic bags to customers. I will indicate to shopkeepers that I expect that to be the case. The levy is the stick, but let us continue to use the carrot to see whether can get the outcome that we are looking for. [Interruption.]

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

I remind Members to switch off mobile phones.

Photo of Robert Coulter Robert Coulter UUP

As it is now about four months since the Minister raised the issue of a plastic bag levy, will he detail the expected amount of money such a levy would raise? Does he agree that any money thus raised should be spent on green issues in local areas?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I have not investigated the amount of money that a plastic bag levy would raise. I would be looking to use such a levy as a deterrent, not as a tax-raising measure. Our party is a party of low taxation, and it is one that allows people to spend their money as they wish. It is also in favour of the Government providing services that are fit for purpose. Therefore, I am not looking for a tax-raising measure; I am looking for and we are working towards the best environmental outcome.