The number of carrier bags handed out at Britain’s leading supermarkets has almost halved in the past three years, according to new figures released today.

In May 2009, 346 million fewer carrier bags were used compared to May 2006, according to the British Retail Consortium – a reduction of 48%.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said the cut was a “spectacular achievement” as the seven retailers involved had grown sales volume by 5% between 2006 and 2008.

“Changing customer habits on this scale this quickly isn’t easy,” he said. “But it’s a huge testament to customers who’ve switched to bags for life and cut bag usage.”

Robertson claimed the figures were proof that the voluntary approach by supermarkets to phasing out carrier bag usage was successful.

The data involved the UK’s seven biggest supermarkets – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, M&S, Waitrose, The Co-operative Group and Somerfield.

At the end of last year, they made a commitment to achieve a 50% reduction in single carrier bag usage between May 2006 and May 2009. The retailers used a number of individual schemes to drive down carrier bag usage, backed up by a Defra funded consumer campaign.