Retail trade associations have urged the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment (DOE) to consider the impact of a plastic bag levy on businesses.

Business groups have made submissions to a consultation by the DOE, which hopes to introduce a 10p charge for single use carrier bags in the hopes of raising £3.8m a year for the government.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association and the British Association (BHA) made a joint submission to the consultation.

“We believe that the Executive should not be introducing another tax while consumers’ disposable incomes continue to fall against the backdrop of rising inflation and the difficult economic environment,” said BHA deputy chief executive Martin Couchman. “In this climate, a carrier bag tax could contribute to driving consumers away from our already struggling high streets, potentially limiting growth, hurting local retailers as well as providing further administrative burdens on small businesses.”

Couchman added that the aim of the levy was confusing. “The levy’s aims, which on the one hand are seeking to raise revenue for environmental purposes and on the other are being used as a tool to implement behavioural change by reducing carrier bag usage, are flawed,” he said. “Friends of the Earth believe this levy will send a confusing message to the public and have stated that it is perverse and muddled.”

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has also responded to the consultation, suggesting that the plans have been rushed through and would disproportionately affect local shops.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said retailers are already doing their part. “We are in favour of reducing carrier bag waste to help the environment, but there are already a number of local shops in Northern Ireland who are working with their communities to introduce voluntary measures, including incentive and charge schemes, which effectively achieve this objective,” he said. “ACS is strongly opposed to any measure which introduces an unnecessary tax on consumers.