Northern Ireland retailers could be forced to charge customers for plastic shopping bags.

Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay has brought a proposal before the Assembly in a Private Member’s Bill to introduce a 15p charge per bag that he hopes will protect the environment and raise revenue.

“Plastic bag litter is a blight on our countryside and our environment and it is a significant problem that the general public would like to see addressed,” said McKay. “During this time of economic austerity, it is an innovative way of raising revenue which will have minimum impact on people’s lives.”

Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association chief executive Glyn Roberts said he supported the idea of reducing the amount of plastic bags handed out, but questioned if a levy was the best option. 

“There should be more emphasis on educating the public not to always take a plastic bag and to train staff to ask if customers actually need a bag,” said Roberts. 

“We welcome the idea of reducing bag waste and our own voluntary campaigns have helped to greatly lower the number of bags handed out. We are open to working with the Assembly in the future on this matter.”

Last week the Welsh Assembly Government introduced a 5p charge for plastic bags, which will come into effect in October 2011.