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Chancellor urges retailers to clamp down on plastic bags

Plastic bag usage will need to drop by 90% in 2009 to avoid the government imposing legislation forcing retailers to charge for them, Drapers has learnt.

Chancellor Alistair Darling said in his Budget report this week that unless retailers took drastic action to reduce carrier bag usage, he would force stores to charge customers for bags.

As part of a voluntary agreement, retailers have already committed to cut the environmental impact of plastic bags by a quarter by the end of this year. Marks & Spencer and Deben-hams are already experimenting with charging for bags. But until now, it had been unclear what reductions the Chancellor expected in 2009.

Sources close to the Treasury told Drapers that “close to” a 90% cut in usage would be needed to prevent legislation being imposed some time next year.

Retailers are already halfway towards achieving the 25% reduction target for 2008, but a huge hike next year will not be welcomed by the industry.

The British Retail Consortium said retailers needed a clear message from the Government on plastic bags. A spokesman added: “Huge progress has been made without any legislation.”

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