‘SAVE and planet and your pennies – always bring your own bag’ that’s the message the Assembly want Ballymoney and Ballycastle retailers to give to their customers after the Department of Environment(DoE) announced a 5p levy on new single use carrier bags from 8th April 2013.
Officials Richard Collett from the DoE Communications Marketing & Design Team and Janice Riddell, DoE carrier bag operational team Manager, at the request of the Chamber, attended a meeting of traders in Riada House, to hear the concerns of local businesses on this measure.
Chamber President, Winnifred Mellet, who chaired the meeting, explained: “There is a lot of concern about the additional administrative burden for retailers of the Assembly’s new initiative, particularly when we learned that the levy, which we were told initially was to reduce use of plastic bags is now to also apply to paper bags.”
She continued: “We voiced our concern when this idea was first muted and made representations via our MLAs. Local retailers received letters from DoE in December 2012 advising that we must register on-line by early March.
“We are understandably very angry about this additional burden which we could well do without in the current difficult trading climate.
“ It is very disappointing that the Assembly decided to press on with the measure, extending it to paper bags, which is beyond what has happened in other places. The message was conveyed strongly to the DoE officials by business people at the meeting and we have asked that our concerns be relayed to the Minister.”
The DoE officials told local retailers that following a public attitudes and awareness survey in October 2011 and public consultations in 2011 and 2012 the DoE is now rolling out its communications plan on the new carrier bag levy due to come into operation on 8th April.
However none of the business people at the meeting had been aware of a consultation exercise, but were advised that following the roll out of the bag levy a second public attitudes and awareness survey would be undertaken in June 2013.
The meeting was also advised that there would be further consultation with business in relation to new primary legislation for the bag levy and they would ensure that the Chamber was advised on this.
The DoE officials advised on the roll out of its advertising campaign which will include radio, on-line, press, social media and active engagement with FE colleges.
Retail support materials and posters had been made available for retailers to download so that customers could be informed about the bag levy. There is to be a Tidy NI /Eco Schools “Bring A Bag Week” promoted 4-8 March.
The purpose of the levy is to substantially reduce or eliminate the unnecessary use of carrier bags encouraging shoppers to always bring their own bags. The DoE anticipate that introducing the single use carrier bag levy will produce substantial benefits by significantly reducing carrier bag production, consumption and disposal.
It was stated that Northern Ireland is using 250 million single use bags every year and this causes significant harm to the environment.
The DoE claim that evidence from other countries shows that a bag levy is a very effective way of substantially reducing the number of bags used.
The new law requires all retailers who dispense single use bags to their customers to charge a cost of at least 5p.
For each carrier bag used to carry goods purchased. The money collected by retailers must be paid to DoE on a quarterly basis and a number of on-line payment methods have been made available, but payments can also be made by cheque.
Further letters of instruction will issue to retailers in March regarding the registration and payment process.
The Chamber President commented: “Since this has been made law we now have little option but to comply.
“So that our customers would not have an additional cost placed on them a number of retailers were willing to take the hit and pay the bag levy, but we were told that this would be illegal as it is the customer who is liable to pay the levy.
“It was of comfort to some, however, that there are some exemptions, eg bags used to carry unpacked food for human or animal consumption and prescriptions/medical products from pharmacies.
“Also gift bags given to customers as part of their purchase but not used to carry the product were exempt.”
Retailers at the meeting were anxious that money raised from Ballymoney shoppers from the levy would be used in a equitable manner to fund environmental projects in the area and that the money should not just go into government coffers.
DoE officials were asked to convey this concern to the Minister.
Information for retailers and shoppers is available on the government’s NI Direct website: www.nidirect.gov.uk/baglevy
Retailers with special queries can email the carrier bag levy team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively retailers can ring the carrier bag team information line on 0300 200 7879.