The number of carrier bags dispensed by retailers in Northern Ireland has increased in the last year.
Figures for 2015-16 show 101.2 million bags, both plastic and paper, were sold by retailers, 9.7 million more than the previous year. This is a 10.6% increase.
This period is the third year since the country introduced a minimum 5p levy on single-use carrier bags in April 2013.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)’s latest figures are still markedly lower than the baseline figure before introduction of the levy, estimated at 300 million bags in 2012.
DAERA said the recent increase was partly due to a regulation change in January 2015 when the levy was extended to all carrier bags with a retail price of less than 20p, whether they are single use or reusable.
However, the number of bags has increased before the rule change from 84.5 million in 2013-14 to 91.5 million in 2014-15.
Nevertheless, DAERA minister Michelle McIlveen welcomed the “sustained reduction” since the levy was introduced.
She 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.”
The proceeds of the levy for 2015-16 totalled £5.2m, with nearly £1.8m of this going to the Natural Heritage Fund and its successor the Natural Environment Fund.
Some £400,000 was used to combat illegal waste dumping, nearly £500,000 was given to community waste organisations to support urban clean-up programmes and £400,000 was allocated to the Challenge Fund to support local community environmental projects.