Earlier this month the government warned that it would force retailers to charge shoppers for plastic bags unless the number of free bags they gave out was significantly reduced. The move was slammed by the industry, which argued retailers were already doing enough to reduce usage.

Marks & Spencer stole the lion's share of headlines recently by announcing a 5p charge for bags in its food stores in May, but independents are also taking action. In November last year, Booths claimed to be the first retailer to have hit a voluntary target to reduce bag usage by 25%. And last June Budgens retailer Andrew Thornton brought in a Pennies for Plastic appeal where the shop donates one pence towards building a theatre stage for a local school for every bag a customer re-uses.

Ninety-one per cent of retailers polled by The Grocer say they have already made efforts to reduce carrier bag usage in their stores and 86% say they intend to introduce further initiatives this year. One retailer says his stores introduced initiatives more than 10 years ago, while the majority already offer bags for life to their customers.

“We have reduced bag usage by 15% in the past year,” says one retailer. “We ran a trial where we took them off open display because a lot of customers take more than they need. We are planning to extend the trial this year.”

Another says: “I have seen instances where staff will put just one product in a bag for a customer without thinking about it, often when a customer doesn't even want one. We calculated bags are costing us £25k to £30k a year, so there is a financial incentive to cut down too.”

Despite opposition from the British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores against government legislation on carrier bags, 62% of retailers say they agree with the government's plans to introduce a charge for plastic carrier bags in 2009.

But opponents of the ban are concerned about losing trade from impulse shoppers. One retailer says: “We have convenience customers who pop in on the way back from work and they need to put their shopping into something.”

The questions we asked:

1) Do you agree with the government's plans to introduce a charge for plastic carrier bags in 2009 if retailers do not take enough action to reduce their usage?
Yes 62%
No 38%

2) Have you made any efforts to reduce carrier bag usage in your stores?
Yes 91%
No 9%

3) Do you intend to introduce initiatives to reduce carrier bag usage this year?
Yes 86%
No 14%

4) Do you think independent retailers have a part to play in reducing carrier bag usage?
Yes 91%
No 9%