Supermarkets agree to halve plastic bag use by spring

The government today announced that it has reached an agreement with the UK's leading supermarkets that will see them cut in half the number of single-use carrier bags they distribute by next spring.

Asda, the Co-op, M&S, Sainsbury's, Somerfield, Tesco and Waitrose have all signed up to the voluntary agreement, which sees them commit to cut the use of both plastic and paper bags by 50 per cent on 2006 levels by early next year. They also committed to an "aspirational" target to eventually cut bag use by 70 per cent.

Environment minister Jane Kennedy hailed the deal as a landmark agreement that will result in about five billion fewer plastic bags being handed out each year. "Supermarkets have already taken some imaginative steps to help us use fewer carrier bags and other high street retailers should look to them for inspiration," she added.

In a thinly veiled swipe at campaigners who have been calling for a ban or tax on single-use plastic bags, Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium praised the supermarkets for their success at meeting previous voluntary targets on bag use.

"Together with other environmental initiatives, supermarkets are meeting their existing commitment to reduce the environmental impact of bags by 25 per cent," he said. "They are now volunteering an ambitious new target to help customers halve bag use by next spring. Supermarkets have been so successful in this by taking customers with them in ways they find acceptable, by encouraging and rewarding."

The new voluntary target comes almost a year after prime minister Gordon Brown and chancellor Alistair Darling threatened to legislate to curb plastic bag use unless the retail sector accelerated its efforts to tackle the issue and proved that it was meeting tougher voluntary goals.

The government said compliance with the new voluntary target will be independently monitored by its waste advisory body WRAP and the success of the agreement will then be jointly reviewed by WRAP and the supermarkets by the summer of 2010.

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