U.K. retailers threatened with plastic bag fee

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has threatened to force retailers to charge customers for plastic bags amid good and bad news for plastic bag use in the UK.

Writing in the Daily Mail on Friday, Brown warned that government action is possible to make retailers charge for each bag given away.

"I have already made clear that over time we should aim to eliminate the single-use plastic bag altogether," he wrote. "And I want to make clear that if Government compulsion is needed to make the change, we will take the necessary steps."

Under legislation set to be introduced, retailers that are still giving away plastic bags a year from now would have to impose a fee and keep track of how much it raises.

Food, clothing and home goods retailer Marks & Spencer announced earlier that it will start charging 5 pence (10 cents) for grocery bags at all its locations. Supermarkets Aldi and Lidl, as well as Ikea, also charge for bags.

Brown's announcement happened to come on the same day as a Guardian news report showing government departments gave out about 1 million plastic bags for marketing purposes in 2007. Shortly after the results were made public, the Central Office of Information declared it would no longer buy plastic bags for marketing campaigns, according to the Guardian.

On the retail side, though, the Waste and Resources Action Programme announced that businesses used 1 billion fewer bags since February 2007, cutting their plastic bag use from 13.4 billion to 12.4 billion.

The figures were gathered to track a pledge by 21 UK retail chains to reduce the impact of bags, through cutting bag use or using recycled content, by 25 percent by the end of 2008. Although the research shows a 14 percent reduction in the use of virgin materials so far, WRAP's figures show great disparities among retailers, with some reducing plastic bag use by 70 percent and one increasing use by 22 percent.

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