The ultimate success of the legislation in Northern Ireland will be when plastic bags are phased out completely and no revenue was raised. I do not believe the 5p plastic bag levy will achieve this.
I have supported a plastic bag levy for many years but not on economic grounds but on environmental grounds. Plastic bags have a serious impact on the environment and on wildlife. There are many examples of wildlife and indeed farm animals dying a very painful death having digested a plastic bag.
There is also the problem of litter. Light bags are blown throughout our countryside, festooning our trees and hedgerows and destroying the green, clean countryside that we are trying to promote as tourism.
The aim of the Plastic Bag Bill should not be to raise revenue; it should be to change consumer behaviour, reduce plastic bags in the rural landscape and increase public awareness of littering.
The plastic bag levy imposed by the Government in the Republic of Ireland has been a great success. It has reduced the use of plastic bags by more than 90%: 1·3 billion fewer bags are used each year. There has also been a significant reduction in littering, and costs have been minimal, at only 3% of the revenue raised. Research carried out for the Dáil on the plastic bag levy some years ago showed overwhelming support from both the public and retailers.
However, that is not what the plastic bag levy is about. We have to encourage people to reuse bags. That would dramatically reduce what goes to landfill.
It can be done. In the Irish Republic, 1·3 billion fewer bags are used.
I am coming from the perspective of the plastic bag levy not being a revenue raiser. I want people to change their behaviour so that it will be phased out in the longer term. However, we have to be realistic; it will not disappear overnight. In the short term a plastic bag levy will raise money that can be used for the Green New Deal.
I find the opposition to the plastic bag levy from the small retailers very hard to grasp, given that in the Irish Republic all retailers, the Chambers of Commerce and the multinationals all believe that the plastic bag levy it is a good thing. Even those who initially opposed the plastic bag levy now support it. Retailers have made significant savings. One retailer experienced savings of £1·9 million in the first year because it bought fewer plastic bags. They still made savings after administrative costs.