By Daniel Hunter

Retailers have diverted significant time and money to preparing staff and stores for the introduction of carrier bag charging today (Monday) but there is still a risk of initial customer confusion and conflict.

"I understand the Minister wants to do something for the environment. We care about the environment too and we've worked with customers on a voluntary basis to deliver big reductions in bag use, but bags should not be politicians' priority," Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Director, Aodhán Connolly, said.

"Our members are targeting the much bigger environmental prizes to be won from, for example, reducing the whole-life impact of products from manufacture and transport through their lifespan to disposal and recycling.

"But, with the legislation in place, our members have devoted substantial resources to staff training and other preparations and they're confident they're ready for this new regime.

"Even so, there is still the possibility of frontline staff in shops, small and large, facing conflict and confusion from customers who haven't been well enough informed. I hope the Department and the public will be patient while we all get used to this new system.

"We're grateful for some of the common sense exemptions included in the Act - you can still have a free bag for privacy reasons with pharmacy items and for health and safety reasons with hot takeaway food. I hope the Minister shows the same good sense by dropping his plans for a further bill to put a 10p levy on re-usable bags. Surely we should encourage consumers who are environmentally aware and utilise re-usable carrier bags not penalise them?"

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