Plastic bag use in Northern Ireland has fallen by almost three quarters since a 5p tax was introduced last year, Northern Ireland’s Department of the Environment has said.

About 215 million fewer bags were used and £4.1m raised through the levy for environmental spending.

It was the first set of official figures since charging for single-use carrier bags began in April last year.

Environment minister Mark H Durkan said: "The response from shoppers has been very positive and retailers have also risen to the challenge.

"The result has been a very significant reduction in single-use carrier bags."

The total decreased by almost 72%, according to the Department of the Environment.

Mr Durkan said money raised through the tax in the past year had been reinvested in environmental projects.

Around 300 million carrier bags were used in Northern Ireland in the year before the charge was introduced.

Retailers have to charge at least 5p for each single-use carrier bag supplied and pay any proceeds of the levy to Stormont's Department of the Environment.

The second phase of the bag levy will begin in January, when 5p will be added to the price of reusable bags that cost less than 20p.

Ireland introduced a 15c levy on plastic bags in 2002. When the levy was raised to 22c in 2007, the government estimated that the use of disposable plastic bags had been reduced by 90%.

Wales was the first UK country to introduce a plastic bag tax - doing so in 2011.

A rise in the number of single-use carrier bags handed out by UK supermarkets has prompted renewed calls for a stricter levy on plastic bags in England.

The number of single-use bags handed out by UK retailers rose for the fourth year in a row in 2013 to more than 8.3 billion, figures showed.