Single Use Carrier Bag Levy – What Does it Mean for Business

In order to reduce the damaging environmental impact of single use carrier bags in Northern Ireland, and to encourage more sustainable retail practice, from 8th April this year a 5p levy has been introduced on single use carrier bags. We know that this is good news for the environment, but what does it mean for Northern Ireland businesses?

Broadly speaking, the carrier bag levy means that most retailers now need to charge their customers at least 5p for each new single use bag supplied to customers. The charge applies to all single use carrier bags, not just plastic bags. Currently, the charge is not applicable to ‘bags for life’, as long as they meet certain regulatory requirements.  It is also worth noting that the charge does not only apply to customers who take their own shopping away in person but also in the case of deliveries, either by the seller or a third party, which are made using single use bags, as well as items collected from a different location to where they were purchased.

There are, however, a number of specific exemptions from the charge on grounds such as patient confidentiality, hygiene and food safety and for the protection of both goods and consumers.  Interestingly, the charge also does not apply where no goods have actually been purchased eg for bags used when giving away free promotional items.

What Records Must Be Kept?
The new regulations mean that sellers must keep and retain very thorough records of the single use carrier bags which they issue to their customers.  These records must include things like the number of single use carrier bags supplied to customers, the gross proceeds received, any amount of chargeable VAT relating to the 5 pence minimum charge and the net proceeds of the charge. This information must be retained for 6 years.

How is the levy paid to the DOE?
Money collected from the levy must be paid to the Department of the Environment. In order to pay, businesses should register online with them. Once registered, they will be able to manage their returns online.

What happens if a business doesn’t comply?
Failure to charge the levy, failure to pay the proceeds of the charge to the Department and failure keep, retain or supply records all constitute potential breaches of the Regulations and could result in the seller facing civil sanctions, which include variable monetary penalties of up to £20,000.

Handy Hints to make sure that your business complies!
• Provide clear information to customers – the DOE has produced a series of posters which can be displayed in premises
• Recording data regularly will ensure that it is accurate
• Be sure to back up data so that records are not lost and also store them securely
• Ensure that all staff are fully trained and aware of the environmental benefits

This only provides a very brief overview to the new procedures so much more detailed information on the carrier bag levy and the obligations it creates for business, including details on what constitutes a ‘single use’ carrier bag, can be found at

The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute professional or other advic